For over 30 years the church has had a concern for adults and children with learning disabilities, their families and carers, known as Bethany.
This has led us over the years to establish different initiatives to meet their changing needs.
At present we have a group of about twenty adults with a learning disability who meet regularly on a Monday night where fun and friendship is on offer, called Busy Buddies.
Three times a year we make an opportunity to present biblical truths to this group in a relaxed, relevant way that, with God’s help, all can access.
At least four people with a learning disability worship regularly with us on a Sunday morning.
To find out more, why not get in touch by emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is an article that appeared in the July/August 2013 Issue
of “The Evangelical Magazine” – a production of the Evangelical Movement of Wales
‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’
‘We would like somewhere to go, to meet up with friends, somewhere that isn’t noisy like the disco is, somewhere safe’.
These were responses given by adults with learning disabilities to a survey about how well the local council was doing in meeting their needs. They were quite happy with daytime residential provision but, time and again, they spoke about what they would like to do in the evenings.
As a carer representative on a panel given the task of going through these responses, Jane thought to herself, ‘Our church could provide that! It could build on all that we’ve done in the past. Is this the next step in the Lord’s leading for the work of Bethany?’
Genesis of the work
Bethany began in 1979 as part of the work of, what was then called, Deeside Evangelical Christian Church. Jane had been involved professionally with children with a learning disability and, personally, having a brother with Down’s Syndrome. After coming to faith in her early twenties, she had begun to think through a biblical response to people with a learning disability. Two things seemed particularly important – to share the Gospel and to support and strengthen the family unit, undergirding our input with biblical principles.
The elders of the church encouraged her in developing links with families. The church soon took this project to heart, prayerfully, practically where assistance was required, and financially as the work developed into a full-time commitment. As a church we sought to express a Christian concern for families in our local area who had children with learning disabilities. This was long before such statutory provision was put in place, so over the years we have sought to provide different kinds of support, depending on the needs of the families, including Saturday play sessions, family days, Parents Forum meetings, small group outings, and short breaks.
Jane visited parents at home, seeking to encourage them in their vital role, discussing practical strategies for handling behaviour, providing information, and sharing God’s word where possible. Family situations have changed inevitably over the years. There have been bereavements, grown-up children leaving the family home, but as a church we still have very warm friendships with some of those families in our local community.
Initial spiritual input
When the children were younger, we included simple Bible songs in our Saturday sessions and used Bible stories. As they grew into teenagers some joined our church Youth meeting and enjoyed differentiated teaching sessions but joined in everything else with the church youngsters.
We produced simple teaching tapes, called Truth Learning Aids, which could be borrowed and listened to at home. Different church members had skills and gifts that were used in producing these.
In recent years we had a Sunday afternoon meeting called, ‘Come Together and Worship’, when a handful of adults with a learning disability and their family members would come along. However, all of these folk already had church connections of one kind or another, so the vast majority of adults with a learning disability in our local area were still unreached.
So here Jane was thirty years later in a local authority meeting, realising that these mature adults, who the church knew as children and teenagers, were appealing for an opportunity to have genuine friendships in their local community. Our church building would lend itself to such a social gathering. We have a core of enthusiastic and very caring church members. We have a very simple formula that seems to work but above all we pray for God’s blessing on our evenings together. Busy Buddies has become the latest development of the work of Bethany.
‘Busy Buddies’ suggests what we are about – we are Buddies who are Busy. Warm friendship is on offer every Monday night. We have a range of activities on offer, table-top games (maybe things families have grown out of), some individual games, some group games. There are activities to suit a variety of abilities and interests. We have a craft organiser who prepares activities that are relatively simple, but not childish, so that our friends go home proudly with a lovely finished article. Some just like to sit and chat over a cuppa. Towards the end of the evening, we all join together to share our news, have a large group game, or sing, but invariably have fun. The whole evening lasts just one and a half hours. God has used these evenings to bless our Busy Buddies, their carers, and church members alike; a spirit of friendship pervades the evening.
It has also proved to be a great bridge-building exercise into our local community. We have a large number of ‘employed’ carers who come with their clients, who we would never have got to know otherwise. Some now bring their clients to Sunday services. In fact, we have five adults with a learning disability regularly worshipping with us.
It has been a joy for us as a church to see folk, who we knew as children thirty years ago, coming now to Busy Buddies as mature adults. Friendships are renewed, the fruit of God’s blessing on the work of this local church, now called Christ Church Deeside.
But, over and above meeting social needs, our greatest desire is that God would meet our friends’ spiritual needs. From the very beginning of Busy Buddies we have had a different kind of meeting at the end of each ‘term’. We use these ‘Specials’ as Gospel opportunities, where we share simple but profound truths about Christmas and Easter, and in the summer, about Someone Special, the Lord Jesus Christ. In an appropriate way, we have songs with signs, a talk, maybe a sensory activity, or pictures on a screen, followed by a craft activity that links in with the theme. The ‘Specials’ are finished off with us all enjoying a special supper together. We have also had two summer courses, during the months of August, comprising four weekly sessions on a Bible theme.
Having people with a learning disability in our regular congregation has challenged us as a church about how ‘inclusive’ our services are. We have rearranged things practically to meet particular needs. We have, on occasions, had a simpler ‘Bite-size’ service that purposefully cuts things down into more ‘digestible’ chunks for our friends but which also many other folk in the church have found helpful and refreshing.
We find our friends are very open to the Gospel but have had very few opportunities to hear it clearly explained to them. Could our experience with Busy Buddies encourage you and your church to reach out to this relatively unreached people group? You and your church will have different gifts and experience, you may do things differently from us, but the Great Commission is the same wherever we are, and people with learning disabilities are in every community – they need to be in every church.
If you would like to discuss anything in this article please get in touch with us.
Christ Church Deeside: www.christchurchdeeside.org.
There is a dedicated e-mail address that will come straight to us: email@example.com.
Another address you can use is:
Bethany, Christ Church Deeside, Victoria Road, Shotton, Flintshire, CH5 1ES
or you can use the church’s telephone number, 01244 816347.
Rhys and Jane Morgan are members of Christ Church Deeside