Monday, February 25, 2019

An Inspiring Synod
(Keeping Up The Momentum)

Way back in 2001 I worked on a project about accessible literature and came across a statistic from the Disability Rights Commission which claimed that around 32% of the UK working age population had a significant disability or long term illness. 

The very next Sunday after finding these statistics, I stood at the back of my church and watched as people made their way to the altar rail to receive communion and asked myself “where are these 32% in our congregation”.

In the intervening years I’ve been on quite a journey, a journey that culminated in 2015 with teeming up with the revs ( Bill and Katie) to form Disability and Jesus. Since 2015 we have been on a roller coaster journey which has introduced us to the whole world of who is missing from our churches. A journey which has left me shocked, embarrassed, shaken and even guilty as I have been opened up to just how many groups we have marginalised 

All this is going on in front of a background where churches are in rapid decline, numbers have fallen drastically, with many of our churches wondering how they can continue to keep the lights on. Huge initiatives have been undertaken and vast sums of money spent on trying to attract new people. 

What I am about to say next may well be a sweeping generalisation and I’m sorry for that but non the less if we are able to be honest and let’s face it, we need to be, we have gone on a recruitment drive of the shiny happy people. The blonde haired blue eyed thirty something couple with two kids. If that seems like a huge exaggeration to you I ask you to look at the advertising of those very campaigns I’ve been talking about, you’ll find loads of glossy pictures of exactly those people. 

I want us to think differently, walk through our cities, see the huge range of ethnicity, culture and abilities and ask your self where are these people in our churches.

Synod this weekend has inspired me that finally pennies are dropping, some of our leaders are waking up to these things, and believe me when I say as I have watched the live stream of synod I have been dancing round my office, overjoyed as I have heard so many talking about things that I have waited more than 30yrs to hear coming from our church leaders. I feel it therefor incumbent on me to play my part in keeping up the momentum. 

As we worked on our book “Pilgrims In The Dark” it became obvious to me that while we were trying to see what a theology of disability might look like, there were other groups such as BAME, LGBTQ, people on estates, young people, the traveling community and others all trying to work out what a theology for them might look like and so much of what they were saying had huge crossover with the work we were doing and the word at the very heart of that crossover was “exclusion”.

It strikes me now that each of these small minority voices might do well to work together to find what we hold in common and to share it with the wider church. 

I was most  heavily involved in church during the late 70s and early 80s. They were heady days of charismatic renewal, the Toronto blessing and above all the buzz phrase of the time "church planting". 

You could hardly read an article in the trendier Christian press that was not talking about the number of people that had “come to Christ” in a particular place, church leaders were falling over themselves to tell you how many new members they had. 

I was worried because as someone counted the newbies in through the front door no one was counting the casualties who sneaked away in bits from the back door. 

The popular thing then and in many places still remains today was to be able to be called upon to stand up and give your testimony. 

Again forgive me for using a stereotype but again let us be honest and admit the truth within it. It goes like this, a person will stand up and tell a tale of some awful life experience, usually around drugs, alcohol or abuse and we know how that story goes, that person has an encounter with Jesus and now life is wonderful and what is more everyone in the room should do the same. 

I have always wanted to stand up and shout “STOP”! What about those of us who have known Jesus all our lives, have felt his love and yet still life is shitty? Are we not saved? Are we doing it wrong.

It has to be possible to know the love of Christ and still be in the shit at the same time. We have painted a picture that denies this, a picture that so many in our society know they will never achieve, a picture that leaves the very people who should be at the heart of our church feeling they simply don't belong.

So while we are all still full of enthusiasm and feeling charged from the events of synod I want to put together a rag tag and bobtail group that represents those groups that are on the margins to try and write something around a theology of the margins. 

I’m looking for like minded people who have experience of these communities to join me. So far this is as far as my thinking has gone but I feel we must start somewhere, so if this blog speaks to you please get in touch. 

As you think about this here are a few government figures I picked up just this morning, read them and ask where are these percentages in our churches. 

In 2016, just over 1 million (2.0%) of the UK population aged 16 and over identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB).
The population aged 16 to 24 were the age group most likely to identify as LGB in 2016 (4.1%).

More males (2.3%) than females (1.6%) identified themselves as LGB in 2016.
The population who identified as LGB in 2016 were most likely to be single, never married or civil partnered, at 70.7%.

An estimated 19% of working age adults have a disability, using the Equality Act definition. “Around 16%of the working age adult population has a disability.” An estimated 19% of working-age adults in the UK have a disability, according to the latest data published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In the 2011 Census, 58,000 people identified themselves as Gypsy or Irish Traveller, accounting for just 0.1% of the resident population of England and Wales.

People from Asian ethnic groups made up the second largest percentage of the population (at 7.5%), followed by Black ethnic groups (at 3.3%), Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups (at 2.2%) and Other ethnic groups (at 1.0%)

We DO NOT see these percentages represented in the average Church Of England congregation. 

You can contact me
Tel: 07703 347107

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Behind The Mix

People often point me in the direction of books, articles and Youtube videos by disabled Christians, thinking that I will be in some way uplifted, inspired or encouraged by them. I have to tell you that for me to feel like that is a rare thing indeed. 

The vast majority of this material fails to address what happens when we are newly faced with a disability, the one that comes out of nowhere and at first seems to destroy all our hopes and dreams. 

I am not saying there is no truth in this material but I am saying it often misses there beginning of the story for fear of the writer being seen in a bad light. 

If such material is to be of real use to anyone I feel it must be brutally honest. Look at the healings of Jesus, he almost always asks the person what they want, he forces them, to name it. 

When disability first breaks in to our lives who is it that immediately says "Jesus please heal me"? 

What most people say is something like "fuck"! If we don't name that hurt in all it's raw honesty how can Jesus heal it. When we first get that bad news it is the first thing that flashes through our minds that Jesus wants to hear, not the tidied up version we concoct when we have had time to adjust, Jesus wants to heat what is behind the mix, not the polished, mixed and edited version but the outages, the bits that don't make the final recording, that is what he wants to heal, that which can not be named. 

This is my prayer for my work that it deals with that raw emotion, that is honest and open so that Jesus can move in to that space.

What The Church Of England Is Failing To Grasp The first effective disability law began in the UK as early as 95 with the early s...