The Church and disability

The Door gives a snapshot of projects involving people with disabilities

State-of-the-art new centre to be built in Oxfordshire

A NEW centre for people with disabilities in Oxfordshire is to be built after Government cut-backs left provision severely lacking.

Rachael and Ian Scott Hunter in front of a family photo with Alexandra. Photo: Jo Duckles

Alexandra House of Joy will be named after Alexandra Scott Hunter, a severely disabled woman who lives in Chesterton, near Bicester, with her parents Rachael and Ian. The building will be on land that has been gifted to the project by a generous farmer who asked to be anonymous. A campaign to raise £2.5m over three years for the project has been launched.

Alexandra experienced a brain haemorrhage when she was just four days old and wasn’t expected to survive. The fact she lived left the surgeon completely bewildered. She is almost non-verbal, using only the words ‘more’, ‘yes’ and ‘dadda’. She has been a wheelchair-user her whole life and has scoliosis, a condition that has left her with dangerous breathing difficulties. She has sleep apnoea and takes morphine every day.

Rachael, who knows of the problems caused by the lack of Government provision for people like Alexandra. This provision has been gradually eroded since 1999. Rachael began lobbying her MP, Victoria Prentis and Oxfordshire County Council in 2016, as the council closed 14 day centres for adults with learning disabilities due to funding cuts. At the same time services for the learning disabled were amalgamated with services for the elderly.

“Elderly people were attending due to depression, loneliness and anxiety,” says Rachael. “Their needs are completely different to those with learning disabilities and this was completely inappropriate.”

Rachael is also involved in a group for older carers. She is 71 and Ian is 73. “Most of the people in the group are in their 80s. There is one mum who is 96 and still looking after her son. Another couple are both 92 and looking after their daughter. I want to be able to provide a service for them in our new building too.”

Rachael says the idea of the Alexandra House of Joy came to her in a dream, which Ian suggested may have been a vision from God. Thinking “if only I had the money” she sought advice from a friend at church who advised her to read the first 10 chapters of Nehemiah. Inspired by the story of God’s power, and a sense of peace about the project, Rachael started to figure out how her dream could become a reality.

“I feel incredibly humbled that God is using me in such a powerful way. “I am honoured to be serving our wonderful adults with learning disabilities. I can’t wait for the doors to this new building to open.

Rachael and Ian enlisted the help of professionals including architects, accountants and solicitors as they moved forward with the project. The architects were impressed with Rachael’s drawings. What left her totally stunned was the phone call from the landowner, telling her she could have the land.

“When he called I burst into tears but he said ‘you can’t argue with the Holy Spirit can you?’

“It has been agreed that it will be gifted but we have to get planning permission, that’s the stage we are at now.”

Despite her problems, Rachael says that Alexandra knows when people are praying and has a connection with God. She attends the Joy Place at St Andrew’s Church, a monthly worship meeting especially for those with learning disabilities.

Rachael believes the church needs to be more involved with people with learning disabilities. “There needs to be more compassion. That’s a Greek word that means to feel a person’s pain. It’s not just about being kind to them or nice to them. How many Christians think about feeling the pain of someone with a profound disability.”

For more or to find out how to make a donation contact Rachael on alexandrahouseofjoy@gmail.com or 01869 325135.

 

Leading worship in a place of transformation

“THIS is a place where transformations happen.” They were the words of Ruth Harley as she described the “outstanding” Kite Ridge School in High Wycombe, where she leads collective worship once a fortnight.

Ruth Harley leads worship at Kite Ridge

Kite Ridge is a school catering for secondary age students with severe learning disabilities whose needs cannot be met in other special schools.

For the last year, Ruth, the children’s and families’ minister from All Saints, High Wycombe, has been visiting Kite Ridge. She has even arranged work experience at church for some of the students.

Steven Sneesby, Kite Ridge’s headteacher, said: “Ruth has an innate ability to engage with our group of young people.” He said one severely autistic teenager missed an assembly, so Ruth repeated the 10-minute act of collective worship just for him.

The Kite Ridge ethos is to never give up on a child – there is no such thing as a last chance. “There are similarities between our ethos and that of the Christian faith,” says Steven. With 30 staff to just 10 students, the school is set up to help its young people thrive.

The work experience at All Saints’ is proving invaluable. One child with Down’s syndrome had to build up to being able to walk through the door of the church. Now she is going along and putting sugar in bowls for the café.

Ruth said: “I have three work experience students. Two are coming into church and helping with coffee, setting up tables, moving furniture and doing some cutting-out for me for ready for Sunday morning.

“One has a gift for sorting things out. He has worked his way through all my cupboards. It’s a fantastic skill.”

Ruth urged other Christians to get involved with their local special school. “A lot of churches will have a special school or pupil referral unit in their parish. There is a real joy in coming here. I think I get far more out of it than I give them. It’s such a joyful place to be. I’ve learnt far more about myself and who God is and where I see God. It’s given me a different perspective.”

Meet Monday in Upper Bucklebury

ACROSS the Reading area there are several church events specifically for adults with learning disabilities.

In Upper Bucklebury, Meet Monday meets around once a fortnight and starts with refreshments, before worship begins with prayer and teaching and possibly some drama or dance. “We sometimes do some crafts as well, depending on what our theme is,” says the Revd Andrew Mackie, from the Purley Benefice.

“This group is important because we are trying to be church for a group of people who find it difficult to access church on a Sunday because the teaching and vocabulary can be beyond what they can cope with. We are aiming to present the Gospel in way that is appropriate for people with learning disabilities.”

Meet Monday was inspired by Prospects, a Berkshire based charity that has merged with Livability as it continues supporting around 3,000 adults with learning disabilities in church-based ministry groups.