Diocesan Disability Officer, Fiona Hill, says she is immensely encouraged after taking part in a major national conference on disability hosted at Lambeth Palace, London, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
The conference explored how disabled people can participate fully in the life of the church, the barriers disabled people can face and what churches can do to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take part and share their gifts and talents.
It was also a chance to celebrate those places and individuals who have enabled increased participation within the Church for those with disabilities.
“This was a momentous occasion for the Church”, said Fiona (pictured in the centre of the picture below), who represented the Diocese of Leeds at the day.
“By having this conference and through what was discussed the Church was acknowledging that people of all abilities and their gifts should be and are welcomed. And not only welcomed but that everyone is included and enabled to participate in the life of the local church, thus belonging. “
The day began and ended with worship, rooting discussions in the life of the Church and the valuable role disabled people have within that. The day also put the voices of those with lived experienced of disability in the centre, through videos and live discussions.
“What stuck out the most for me was the honesty of the Archbishop”, said Fiona. “The fact that one of his children has learning disabilities and another has mental health conditions is fairly well known, but the concerns and questions he raised, the way he answered difficult questions and his manner throughout, showed to me someone who takes people with disabilities and their faith seriously – this can only be good news for the Church of England and the life of our churches.”
John Swinton, Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at Aberdeen University, gave the keynote speech.
Professor Swinton, who is also a minister in the Church of Scotland and a registered nurse, said the Church is called to be – and has “huge potential to be” – a place where people are valued and belong.
Fiona commented, “The panellists, guests and Archbishop himself made no bones that sadly not all churches are welcoming and are inaccessible due to the building or simply because of people’s attitudes - we cannot put “heritage before people.”
Livability, the disability charity that connects people with their communities, partnered with Lambeth Palace in the development of the conference, and helped to shape the conference’s discussion agenda for the day. Archbishop Justin Welby is President of Livability.
The conference was facilitated by Kate Monaghan, a Christian journalist and filmmaker who presents the BBC Ouch disability podcast.
Archbishop Justin Welby told the Conference, “Today has been humbling, challenging and inspiring.
“I passionately believe that these kinds of conversations – and especially this kind of deep listening to those with lived experience of disability – is absolutely vital if we are to be a Church where everyone is valued and everyone belongs.”
To mark the event, Livability have launched a new resource called ‘More Than Welcome’ to support churches in creating a place of welcome, inclusion and participation with disabled people. Based on the idea of a journey – the resource is designed to help churches go through three important stages, from a place of welcome, to inclusion, to participation. The resource provides inspiration, guidance, stories and tips of things to work on to see people fully taking part.
Find out more
Watch the three short films that were shown at the conference here
Livability’s ‘More than Welcome’ resource is available here
More resources for churches on Fiona Hill's diocesan disability webpage here