I have been a regional ambassador for IC in North London since 2013. I first got involved with IC when my vicar, in response to my ‘going on about’ trying to set up specific inclusive worship services for people with learning disabilities, said, “You sound like just the kind of person to become an ‘Inclusive Church Ambassador.” At the time, Rev. Andrew Cain (now Foreshew-Cain) was North London Ambassador on his own, so I relished the chance to work with him. Unfortunately for me, within a few months, due to other pressures, he had to relinquish the post, and I was on my own, which was much less fun than with Andrew!
So, any readers of this blog, with a smidgen of passion for inclusion, please don’t hesitate – you too are most welcome to apply to be ambassadors with Inclusive Church, even (and especially perhaps) if there is already an ambassador in your area!
My own beliefs about inclusion are rooted in my belief that God’s big heart welcomes everyone. As Jesus demonstrated through his own behaviour, those whom religious institutions of the day stigmatise and exclude, are exactly the kind of people that he often especially sought out to encourage and connect with. If all are included by God, God-worshipping communities should be inclusive too.
I am passionate about religious groups being inclusive, having had some family experiences with church and disability, cultural and sexual-orientation issues, and much work-related experience in the field of child and family mental health in East London, as well as in spiritual direction, where I have witnessed and engaged with the kind of damage that can be caused by marginalisation and exclusion of people. For one reason or another, all kinds of people may be seen as ‘different’ from the group ‘norm’ in religious, educational and other community settings – and feeling ‘left out’ and isolated is not good for any of us!
One of the biggest barriers to inclusion is often a perceived lack of adequate resources to address relatively simple practical problems, but there is also something else – fear. Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar can often cause otherwise well-intentioned people to draw back and avoid contact. In the absence of a meaningful framework to help a person to understand and make sense of the unfamiliar, what is strange may seem scary. If we don’t have regular day-to-day opportunities to share everyday human experiences together with people who might have a different way of being in the world to us, such withdrawal and distancing is likely to persist.
Since early 2009, having failed in my own individual attempt to rally a group of interested people to support a specific community gathering and worship group for people with learning disabilities in my own area of north London, I joined the organising team of a group of parents and carers in Muswell Hill, who were setting up a new venture called WAVE (we are all valued equally). We had our first Wave Church meeting in the summer of 2009, and since then the movement has gone from strength to strength, and I am pleased to say that from a small and unknown entity, the WAVE slogan of ‘With Not For’ is now helping to inspire new WAVE groups across the country.
Every one of us can make a difference that sets a small change in progress. Likewise, every new church community which commits to the values and practices of being an inclusive church will provide another space where people can grow and learn, and their visitors can feel more confident that, when they walk through the front door, they too, with their own set of characteristics and experiences, will be made welcome.
Susanne Griffin is a member of WAVE church, an IC regional ambassador for N. London, a retired NHS child and adolescent psychiatrist, a family & systemic psychotherapist and a spiritual director.
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