Every church should become an ‘enabling’ church, including/involving those with deafness, disability and dementia, their families and carers. So advocated the 2014 ‘Enabling Church’ conference organised by Lichfield Diocese and Churches for All. Trust funding helped evaluate the conference’s impact.
Enabling Church Evaluation
Half of the proceeds of the 2014 Bishop of Lichfield’s Lent Appeal were given to Churches for All, to support the running of two Enabling Church conferences. Churches for All is a coalition of Christian charities working with those who live with disability. With the sponsorship of the Diocese, they hosted a national conference on 3rd June 2014 in West Bromwich. There were 350 participants who came from all over the country, with 10% being from the Diocese of Lichfield. A short video of the conference is available. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qo3bRYPLX8Y.
Disabling Barriers to Church is a principal theme of the Transforming Communities department of the Diocese of Lichfield. From the beginning of the planning for the conference, developing the mission and ministry of disabled people in the diocese was an explicit objective. Conference attendees were invited to inform the organisers, in advance or on the day, of the work which they were already undertaking with people living with disability; though this request met with a limited response.
Along with arrangements for the conference, the Diocese of Lichfield worked with Churches for All to produce a four-day training course on Enabling Church. This was piloted in Walsall in October and November 2014, with some of those who attended the day conference, being joined with others from around and beyond the diocese. A short video of the course is available. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9-Bg_fXVs.
The Diocesan Director of Transforming Communities was committed to evaluate the project, to ensure that the learning from the Enabling Conference and Course could be consolidated. This was particularly important as disabilities issues can be portrayed as of minority interest whilst the organizers believe the strap-line of ‘Disability and Jesus’, that “a church without disabled people is a disabled church”.
It was not possible for funding for an evaluation to be secured before the Conference and Course had taken place, however Saltley Trust were able to approve a grant in December 2014, for research to begin the following month. Dr Heather Buckingham, a research fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham, interviewed participants of both the Conference and the Course, and ran two focus groups. The full report is available here: http://churchesforall.org.uk/enabling-church-research-published/.
The recommendations of the Evaluation Report are helping the development of the mission and ministry of people living with disability in the Diocese of Lichfield. It is also available to support the national church as it engages with disability issues. A secondary focus was on the ways in which learning imparted at any national conference can subsequently be imbedded in local practice.