St Oswald’s Netherton to host an inclusive harvest community day organised by a group of people from a few churches of different denominations around the Liverpool area and with help from a few organisations on Saturday 26th September with craft, activities, information and advice.
Revd. Simon Elliott is passionate about church being open for all. As one of the driving forces behind the Harvest inclusivity day on September 26th he is keen to create safe places where all can feel truly welcome, including those with a wide range of additional / special needs and disabilities together with their parents / carers / family / siblings.
As father to a young lad on the autistic spectrum Simon knows how awkward he feels in many social situations “Matthew only really interacts with adults by looking them in the eyes and by touching them. He tends to ignore other children, he has no speech at all, he has no boundaries – in the way we would see them – and his behaviour is sometimes challenging and certainly different for those who don’t know him or understand what autism is about.” He also has no safety and minimal general awareness. This can often lead to challenges and difficulties for my wife Lisa and I, so we end up being restricted to places where we can feel safe with Matthew, both in terms of the physical space and sometimes people.
His experiences have made Simon determined to make his ministry inclusive and church open to all. “inclusive church should be about that,” he says “church is called to be for everyone. St Oswald’s have been good in this respect. They have welcomed me and my family and alongside another family who have a teenage son on the autistic spectrum we have started work to support those with special needs.” So at St. Oswald’s they host a monthly evening drop in for parents / carers of children and young people on the autistic spectrum. Also, St. Oswald’s has been running a monthly café where people can get good food and be welcomed in a good accessible space without having to worry about being stared at and made to feel uncomfortable in any way.
Also a range of multisensory inclusive events has followed in partnership with people from a few different churches – Church of England, Salvation Army, Baptist from around the Liverpool area, leading to this Harvest day. “The day is about having fun. It is about allowing those of all abilities to take part in the activities, craft and fun, but in the knowledge that those with any additional / special needs and disabilities are catered for, welcomed and fully included, together with their family, their friends, whoever wants to come. It’s for all to enjoy together.”
As the panel shows there is plenty for everyone with arts and craft activities, multi-sensory play and support, advice and resources for families in similar situations. And with the support and involvement of YKids, In Another Place and our Deaf Ministry the day promises to be a great occasion for all.
Simon admits that many activities will not be for his son. “Matthew will only really engage by running and climbing around the place and by making friends with adults there in his own unique way, but it will be a ‘safe space’ for him to do that and his sister will love all the activities. And for siblings it is important to have time they can take part in these activities while parents like myself are not too worried about how others will react to their sibling with special needs.”
Simon’s other hope is that this event will provide inspiration for other churches. “I’d like to encourage others to come along and see what might spark ideas for their own church. A great deal of this is about a positive, welcoming attitude that breaks down the barriers of what outsiders may fear when coming to church. Put parents at ease and hopefully families will feel able to come and we may see some growth”.
Next week Simon talks frankly about living with a son on the autistic spectrum, his hopes and fears and the impact it has on his faith.
"I’d like to encourage others to come along and see what might spark ideas for their own church. A great deal of this is about a positive, welcoming attitude that breaks down the barriers of what outsiders may fear when coming to church."