I had known and heard of Inclusive Church for some time before I got involved with it – I am a PhD researcher and knew that they had an annual disability conference which I ought to go to, given my thesis is on autistic people and religious/humanist groups. I’ve always felt an outsider within church groups as an autistic person, and had never really felt included or part of anything beyond being physically present. I had often been told I needed to be part of a group, including by other autistic people, but with no deep understanding and empathy in regard to how much of an outsider I felt. I also had a growing discomfort with the embedded deficit approach toward disability and neurodiversity in discourse in many communities.
I was approached on email by Fiona MacMillan in July 2019 after she had got my contact details through a mutual contact – and was invited to take part in the 2019 disability conference ‘Thinking Differently’. Gradually as I met people who were part of the conference and conference planning team, I realised I was amongst many who had previous similar experiences of church to me, and who were fellow ‘edgewalkers’ (a term coined by Dr Judy Neal) – those who knew how to hold space, how to listen without invalidating my experiences, who gave me time to grow and accepted me as I am.
For me, Inclusive Church have not only supported my academic endeavours and research interests through fantastic conversation, wonderful opportunities and amazing support, I now have found a community of people who are my church. I have found a like-minded community who I can genuinely share with and who share an empowering, valuing and neurodivergent/disabled led theology of neurodiversity and disability. Lived experience, embodied theology, community gathering spaces and educational resources are so vital – these address ongoing power imbalances which are present in the information available to us. Such availability of resources and spaces help others on their own faith and personal journeys, whether people identify as disabled and/or neurodivergent, or work with and support disabled and neurodivergent people in church settings. Thanks to Inclusive Church, all of these things are happening and I am proud to be a part of their ongoing work.
Krysia Waldock is a PhD researcher and a member of the Disability Conference planning team. The Disability Conference is a partnership between St Martin in the Fields and Inclusive Church, now in its 10th year. Disabled people are the majority of planners, speakers and delegates – a space to gather to resource each other and the church. This year’s conference will be online on Saturday 16 October, hosted by HeartEdge. Join the conference mailing list here.
You can support the work of Inclusive Church by volunteering or donating. Get in touch with the National Coordinator to find out more about becoming a Regional Ambassador or volunteering in other ways. Donate through the website here.