This weekend I’m going to be at the Hand in Hand conference in Eastbourne. The Additional Needs Alliance (ANA) has for the last few years done a forum before the conference, but this year we decided to run it through the main conference itself.
One of the key subjects we will be looking at in the ANA stream is spirituality, worship and learning. I’ll blog about it afterwards, but for now I wanted to just write briefly about my thinking…
All of us involved in Christian children’s work believe that children can be Christians, can grow in faith and have a full and vibrant relationship with God. We also believe children are capable of true worship and can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes? Do I have a hearty ‘Amen’ for that statement?
And so, we also believe it is exactly the same for every child regardless of ability - even those with profound disabilities - don’t we…..?
Do I hear slightly quieter amens this time? Do we really believe that? Or is it a case of saying amen in our head and heart, but our actions say something else?
I do know some who would question a severely disabled child’s ability to have faith, but I don't think that includes any children’s worker I know. The issue has been more about having time, knowledge and resources to nurture faith in those who have additional needs and disabilities.
What I’ve found as I’ve talked to parents is, if their child has an additional need or disability and is settled in a church, most energy is put into physical inclusion and not so much into building life long faith. Something that makes many parents and carers quite sad.
The picture at the top of this post came across my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago. I shared it on Facebook and twitter with the added caption saying that this applied to children with additional needs and disabilities too. It got lots of attention on Twitter, and a fair bit on Facebook.
The thing is - I adamantly believe this! But I also believe that we sometimes, without realising it, diminish the spiritual lives of children with additional needs and disability, and assume that because they don’t ‘do’ faith like we do it’s somehow not as valid. This results in us underestimating their faith, their ability to pray and their worship. As I said earlier - not intentionally. But it just seems to happen.
I’d like it to stop happening.
As Children Matter! embark on a brilliantly exciting project over the next few years (I’ll blog about that after the weekend too!) I want to show that the themes of this project apply to all children - regardless of ability, regardless of need and regardless of their status in the world.
Life long resilient faith can be possible for every child. For some we have to think harder and pray longer to find ways to disciple them, but we CAN do it.
We need to think beyond physical inclusion and embrace the need for spiritual inclusion too.