Myles & Cath Pilling run a weekly coffee morning for people with learning disabilities in Melksham, Wiltshire. Here they share their experience as an example of community :-
There are people with learning disabilites in your community. Often they live in homes of 3 or 4 people or in pairs supported by care providers. These are people who need to hear the gospel. They won’t come to you – or will they?
Does your fellowship run coffee mornings? How could you reach out to these people? Do you have care workers in your fellowship?
Count Everyone In is about inclusion through relationship among other things. We started a coffee morning about 6 years ago in a church hall in the centre of our town. We chose the centre of town to make it accessible for people to walk to and it is by the bus stop. Often people with learning disabilities are out in the community on their own with their support workers with nothing much to do except walk around town , shop and buy cups of coffee. So what we do is to provide a place to meet, a cup of coffee, some craft activities and a community sing which draws people to a natural high at the end of the session. We started with a few people but now we regularly get 40 and the car park looks like a game of Tetris! It is so popular that we are seeking a larger church venue in town with access and car parking to allow more people to come. If this can happen to us in a small market town in Wiltshire what would happen if you did this in your town or city?
How did we find the people?
Well , we already ran a Prospects ministry group which was a starting point and then expanded to invite services to connect with us. Once the word got out then social services started referring individuals as it kept appearing in the case reviews of people who were attending the group. The local careers service got to hear about us and started sending young people to us as part of creating occupation and purpose while they seek employment. The only condition we stipulated is that they had to have a learning disability.We also surveyed the local provision and found out that services to people with learning disabilities were geared to older people and not the younger generation so we decided to have background music as well as live music to create a younger person’s atmosphere. The support workers were great as they went from home to home spreading the word about the coffee morning. The coffee morning is now an established part of a person with a learning disability’s week. It’s part of their routines. Our coffee mornings are not overtly Christian but we don’t hide it either! Using songs like “He’s got the whole world in his hands” which non-Christian’s alike would know we are able to bridge a gap. We use calendar events such as Christmas and Easter to share the gospel and if people ask for help or prayer we are able to share with them the good news of the gospel. It’s a brilliant way to connect with the community and with the obvious success we are experiencing it is much needed.
How can you get involved? How can you start up a coffee morning yourselves?
You may not have to. Does your fellowship run such an event? Then have you thought of inviting people with learning disabilities to it? If no such thing exists then consider starting one. Having a team is important so having the backing of your church fellowship is key. You will need people to make tea, coffee and get alongside the people who come. This is a great way to get people interested in ministering to people with learning disabilities as it is informal, friendly and non-threatening. It builds relationships and opens eyes. One church member thinks it is fantastic. Even though physically disabled himself he can sympathise and find himself useful at the coffee mornings by washing up for us. He might never have considered even meeting people with learning disabilities before the coffee morning.
Where do I start?
Well here’s the plug! You have an opportunity to learn how to love people with learning disabilities because that is where it starts. Relationship is key and having an attitude of acceptance and love speaks volumes to people with learning disabilities as they pick up through your approach more than by what you say. Come to one of Count Everyone In’s “Know and Grow” sessions where you will find out how you can reach people with learning disabilities and make a difference. This would impact both the people you reach out to and the fellowship you worship at. It really is a mission field on your doorstep and we need such events like coffee mornings or other types of outreach to invite people to. You might get suspicion over your motives from services but once you have gained credibility by your loving approach the barriers will come down ! The next “Know and Grow” is Saturday 19th January in Crowborough. If that is not close or accessible for you then other events are happening and you can always ask Pete & Christine to host one for you. Just contact them either by phone or email – all at the top of the page.