Lifelong Faith Formation For Children With Additional Needs
February 8, 2017
This last weekend saw the launch of 'Faithfull Generation' at the Hand in Hand conference in Eastbourne. The whole conference was given over to this project about children developing resilient faith in every sphere of life.
During the weekend, the Additional Needs Alliance held it's 5th Annual Forum, where we were discussing what the five principles of 'Faithfull Generation' would look like for children who have additional needs and disabilities.
I was also privileged to have the opportunity to share with the whole conference how this would look.
Let me give you a flavour of that....
Firstly, I need to say that as the Children Matter coalition have been discussing and planning this project, ALL children have been in our thoughts, including those who are vulnerable by way of their circumstances and those who have additional needs and disabilities. We believe that extra consideration needs to be in place for those who have additional needs of any sort.
Because this is such a big project, we will be taking at least 5 years to work through each principle, and the Additional Needs Alliance hopes to work through each principle along side Children Matter – not because we want to separate or ghettoise vulnerable children, but because we realise that when thinking about additional needs and disability, we need to be more intentional in the way we put these principles in place.
There is a lot of 'cross pollination' within the principles for all children, but this becomes even more apparent for vulnerable children and those with additional needs and disabilities.
For example, we talk about 'Community' - Helping the church to thrive as a growing, intergenerational faith community, whilst supporting the family as a key place of spiritual nurture. And then, 'Encounter' - Creating opportunities for children to connect with the big story of the Bible and space where they can encounter the living Jesus for themselves.
For a child with additional needs, we often find they cannot access the faith community. It shouldn't be like that – an intergenerational faith community should be the most accessible place for them, where they are included and feel as though they belong. But history tells us that physically and cognitively joining the community is regularly not possible
It ought to be within this community, and within the home that children are able to connect with the Big Story of God, see their place in it, and encounter the living Jesus for themselves. But for children with additional needs, the community or home as a key place of nurture... or even both, are frequently missing.
Parents of children with additional needs are often so overloaded with the many aspects of caring for their child, thinking about spiritual input is, through necessity, low on the list of priorities. And where they are part of a church that supports families in the spiritual nurture of their children, there is little specialist support for nurturing a child with specific needs.
It is in combining these two principles that you can see more clearly why we need to be more intentional about the spiritual nurture of children with additional needs and disabilities.
We also need to consider the fact that many children with additional needs and disabilities regularly have deep questions surrounding God and their additional need – usually along the lines of “Why did God make me like this?” or “Can I still be part of the Big story when I'm different?” (I've been asked both by children). That's when we get into the next principle – 'Dialogue'. When children (and their parents) are asking questions like this, you can see the need for intentional mentoring.
And so it goes on – I hope that through both Children Matter and Additional Needs Alliance we can support churches and families in making spiritual formation in children with additional needs and disabilities intentional, and top quality.
So either watch this space, or join the conversation.
The Principles of Faithfull Generation are:
Developing resilient faith formation in every sphere of life through:
Community: Helping the church to thrive as a growing, intergenerational faith community, whilst supporting the family as a key place of spiritual nurture.
Encounter: Creating opportunities for children to connect with the big story of the Bible and space where they can encounter the living Jesus for themselves.
Dialogue: Encouraging faith to be both talked out and lived out, within peer relationships and supported by mentors and the wider church family.
Milestones: Enabling peak experiences in the lives of children and celebrating key moments and anchor points in their life and spiritual journey.
Action: Allowing children to contribute as active participants in mission and giving them the opportunity to respond with compassion to the world around them.