Focus Service, Sheffield
26th June 2015
Do you know someone with a learning disability? Maybe someone in your extended family? Someone who lives down your street? Perhaps a friend or family member of a work colleague?
Perhaps it's the boy with autism in your child's class at school. Perhaps it's the older gentleman in your church congregation who has comprehension difficulties. Perhaps, it's your friend who works as a carer in an assisted living facility.
According to www.mencap.org.uk, 1.5 million members of the UK population have a learning disability. Yet, why don't we see this sizeable proportion of our population represented more visibly in wider church life?
Organisations like Prospects (www.prospects.org.uk) and Faith and Light (www.faithandlight.org.uk) have worked for years to incorporate people with learning disabilities into local church life. For some people with a learning disability, integration into an existing congregation can work very well.
However, for adults who have moderate to severe learning disabilities, integration can be extremely difficult. An existing church would have to completely re-think the fundamentals of what they do and how they help people learn for those few individuals. It is a lot to ask.
Here in Sheffield, a group of Christians wrestled with this dilemma 15 years ago and concluded that the way forward for them was to birth a new church specifically for adults with learning disabilities. It is called Focus Service: Sheffield Church (or Focus for short) and it meets at 7pm on Sunday evenings every fortnight at St Paul's Church Norton Lees.
Focus enables the gifts, needs and issues of the learning disability community to be at the heart of church life. Choice is a big issue for adults with learning disabilities and Focus seeks to give members as much say in how their church is run as they responsibly can.
Focus is an ecumenical church supported by an Anglican/Baptist/Free Church partnership. In 2012, it was granted a Bishop's Mission Order and was the first church to receive an ecumenical version of new legislation that enables new churches within the Church of England to have legal status. I am privileged to be the Bishop's Visitor for Focus.
One of the challenges Focus faces is how it relates to other churches in Sheffield. How can the same mutually beneficial integration of individuals within one local church be expressed at an inter-church level? Focus is a church that has much to give others. For me, encountering the enthusiasm, contentment, generosity and lack of pretence of all its members has been hugely refreshing. Not only that, but there are deeper spiritual questions that arise with this kind of ministry that all churches would benefit from engaging with.
If there are ways in which you as an individual or your church would like to make connections with Focus and its ministry, we would love to hear from you. If you know someone with a learning disability who might like to come to Focus, please do get in touch. If churches or individuals would like to support us in prayer or donate to Focus, again, we would be delighted to hear from you.
Lastly, if you, or someone you know, sense a calling to work in this area of ministry, let Focus know.
Contact the leader of Focus, Revd David Middleton, on 07561 557659 or firstname.lastname@example.org