Monday, 19 November 2012

Idiots Guide to making church accessible….Worship

When we talk about accessibility, the obvious things are wheelchair ramps and lifts, but there is so much more!!

By accessible we mean more than physical access to a building:

Can those attending your church access worship? The teaching? The coffee? Do they feel guilty because of terminology?  That’s just a few of the things we can think about when we look at making church accessible. Is your website accessible too? Is there information about how those with disabilities can access what you do?

In this post, I’m only going to look at one aspect of accessibility. I may cover other areas later.

Let’s look at ‘sung worship’:

Most will think this is just down to being able to read the words on the screen. Yes, there are issues there, but there are others too.

Do you provide large/giant print words? 
Think about the following:
  • Are they large enough?
  • Are they in a sans serif font? Serif fonts are difficult to read for those with visual problems and also for those who have dyslexia
  • Have you used italics? It’s best not to - they aren’t as clear to read (Yes I know I’ve used them here!)
  • If the song/hymn covers two pages, have you put the chorus on both pages? Having to turn the page back and find your place on the page again is difficult.
  • Are they the ‘right’ words? Some hymns have variations, and some have the same title as another song. If the large print words are prepared by a different person to the one doing the presentation slides, sometimes the wrong song or words make their way to the large print folder!
  • Is the page ‘clean’ or does it have the look of a poor photo copy with bits and blobs over it or fuzzy words? Having these things on the page can make them difficult to read.

How do you introduce worship?
Think about the following:
Are the first words something along the lines of “We’ll all stand to sing….”. Well, actually, some of your congregation may not be able to, and often find phrases like that unhelpful. Many of my disabled friends really appreciate something along the lines of “Stand if you’re able”, and if you’re the sort of church who “remain standing for the next song” it’s helpful to say “If you would like to remain standing….”  Inviting people to worship with suggestions that they may like to stand is much more helpful.

Announcing the next song/hymn is also helpful, or else those unable to see the screens will find it just as the song is finishing.

Do you have a fixed place where those who use wheelchairs or have poor mobility have to sit, or do you give choice?
Think about the following:
  • If those who need to be seated for worship and use screens to access song words, be aware of those standing in front of them - they won’t be able to see past them. 
  • If they opt to sit at the end of a row so they can see screens whilst seated, and you are from a church where people move around and raise hands in worship - look out for those who move into the aisle and don’t realise they are blocking the view of those who are seated.
  • For some wheelchair users or those with mobility difficulties, sitting at the front isn’t always the solution, as looking up at a screen gives neck pain. (Plus, for those with complex syndromes or hidden disabilities the brightness of the screen can also be a problem)
  • Be sensitive to those for whom volume means pain - not just to the ears, but also the base notes pounding through their body. Give advise as to the best place to sit if you know this could be a problem.

There is also specific advice for those who have autistic spectrum disorders and worship, which really needs to be a separate post. Do ask the person what is best if you have someone who is finding access to sung worship difficult due to autism. You could also look at the Oxford diocese booklet "Welcoming those with Autism and Asperger Syndrome in our Churches and Communities" downloadable here

As an aside:
If you put the songs being sung that day in a folder for those who can’t see the screens, how about putting the bible reading and responsive prayers in there too?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Today I Choose Gentleness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by opinions? Not your own, but the amazing avalanche of everyone else’s thoughts?
I do

I’ve been amazed at the ferocity of opinions on all sides of many debates. I’ve seen Christians metaphorically tearing lumps out of each other in the blogosphere, on twitter and even Facebook - just because of opinions. 

Opinions are good and everyone has them - that’s life isn’t it? God created us as individuals able to reason and form opinions. We need them, they show who we are and what we stand for. 

I have many of my own! The thing is - I dare not share them. 

I try not to let my opinions influence how I see others and I am happy for others to have an opinion of their own - it shows they think things through, and in my mind that’s a good thing.

But I struggle with how others deal with some one else’s opinion when it doesn’t match theirs.

We’ve been studying 1 John in our home group - brilliant! But it has made me increasingly aware of how in some circles Christians will not love their ‘brother’ if they have a different opinion.

Maybe social media just magnifies the problem - or maybe love is draining out of the Church? I don’t like either scenario, but the latter scares me rigid.

I love my church, and I feel loved in it - There are lots of opinions there, even in the leadership and it makes for a healthier church. I feel safe there and I know I am fortunate to be able to say that. But out in the big world wide Church, I often don’t feel safe.

I don’t feel safe to say what books I’ve read, what my politics are, what my thoughts on women in the church are, how I view predestination and God etc, etc. I know that if I said exactly what I thought about these issues on twitter - I would lose half my followers. Clarification here - I’m not that bothered about how many followers I have! BUT, I would be more concerned that I had been trashed because of my opinions with no regard to my faith and my love for God.

It’s sad to say that my opinions are respected more by family who are not Christians than some of them who are.

I have even been asked not to help/speak on a Christian kids camp anymore because of other peoples opinions on women.

I have been horrified by people saying they won’t sing a certain worship leader/songwriter’s songs anymore - not because of poor theology (And for this writer - It’s very good theology!) but instead….. because they don’t agree with their politics.

You know what really worries me? 
There are two things: The fear that I am becoming just as judgemental - I spot it sometimes in my occasional quick and angry responses to things. 
But even greater is the realization that all this arguing is squashing my joy in loving my wonderful Saviour, because all around me I see battles that should not be battles, arguments that should be loving discussions. Then there's the thought “am I really that wrong?!” causing me to question my own faith.  In short - I am sad. Very Sad.

What are we teaching our children?? What are we showing our friends and family who do not yet follow Christ?

Today - I choose not to be adversarial  - instead I choose gentleness. It has always been my preference to be gentle. I want it to remain so.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

"Thankyou Jesus You're My Friend" Amazing Stories Series (#1)

Around 20 years ago at a  large event, I was charged with looking after a 9 year old boy who had Down’s syndrome - he was what we affectionately call a “runner”. He would have given Houdini a run for his money in the various ways he could find to try and escape! This was in the days before children’s groups had specialists on their teams, so it was rare to be given a role like this. I was given the role because the leader of the team knew of my training and vision.  

Because I was also a musician I had to sing/play in the band. This meant I had to leave my young charge by the OHP (That dates this story!!) with another team member, where he would help with the song words.
Looking from the outside, it appeared he had no interaction with the spiritual side of the programme at all, and very little with the rest of the programme. It was hard work!

We used a lot of makaton signs as actions for songs, but this young lad would not sing or sign for the whole week….. That was, until the last day. On the last morning, with a big grin on his face he signed “Thankyou Jesus, You’re my friend” along with the song we were singing.

For all his appearance of not engaging, he had taken a profound message on board.

There were other positive things that came out of this: That particular team decided to make additional needs carers a permanent position on their teams. I also wrote to the head of the event - it was a very ‘frank’ letter about the need for looking at better additional needs provision within the children and youth programmes. I didn’t expect to get a reply - but I did. And year on year the additional needs provision grew and improved to the excellent work they do today. 

I’m pretty sure that other’s wrote letters about this too, so the change wan’t just down to me…… but I am blessed by the fact that I am now the disability and additional needs advisor for that same festival. 

This is just one story of one child who has made a difference. He doesn't know it, and I doubt his family do either.

Over the next few days I hope to post a few more encouraging stories about working with children who have additional needs. I have so many to choose from.....!