(The following is a copy of an article which appeared in the Methodist Recorder earlier this year)
On one particularly poorly attended Sunday at St Thomas’ Road Methodist Church in Derby, Revd Jenny Dyer found herself preaching to about a dozen people, two of whom had learning difficulties. “I was preaching about the Chilcot Report,” she says, “and thinking what on earth are they making of this. Not only did two of the worshippers have learning difficulties, but another had left an adult son with learning difficulties at home. Others on our membership list have either learning difficulties or dementia. It was a lightbulb moment. I thought: we have to change our worship to be more accessible to these people.”
It was the beginning of a new initiative. The church got together with Prospects (now part of Livability), an organisation that promotes worship groups for people with special needs. Prospects came and led a training day, attended not only by the faithful few from the church but by Local Preachers and Worship Leaders from around the circuit, and people from other churches in Derby and beyond.
Then the services started. Since February, St Thomas’ Road has been running a service it calls ‘Simply Worship’, at its usual service time, once a month. ‘Simply Worship’ aims to be accessible to everyone, including people with special needs or dementia. “It is a bit of a challenge though,” says Revd Jenny, “because it also needs to have enough meat in it for our other worshippers. But so far everyone seems to enjoy it.”
The congregation sit café-style round tables, and tea, coffee and squash are served as people arrive. There is always something on the table for people to do and help each other to do, as they settle in. Sometimes it has been craft, and once it was a puzzle. Once it was baking: “It was a Sunday soon after Easter and we made ’empty tomb marshmallow croissants!'” The worship is informal, interactive, visual, colourful. “We aim to keep it simple, but with depth,” says Revd Jenny. And it always finishes with the Lord’s Prayer with actions.
Future challenges? “We need to get it better advertised,” says Revd Jenny. “So far we have not been successful in attracting people who are not already connected with us, but we hope that will change soon. And also I’d like us to learn some simple Makaton signs to go with some of the songs.”