St Mark's Mansfield


Welcoming Disability: Week 4: 2015

This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest

In our fourth week each group is challenged to invite someone as a guest storyteller. In one group a Methodist minister who experiences a chronic illness came to speak. In another we heard from a fourteen year old member of the church with autism and ADHD. In the third group a member brought a very heartbreaking poem. You can read it in full on this link but below is a quote from the poem:

I stand quietly at the supermarket checkout while everyone stares at you barking like a dog and blowing raspberries on my arms to cope with the buzzing lights.

I stand quietly while you tell the baffled shop owner that you are looking for shoes that feel hard like splintered wood because your skin can’t bear soft things.

I stand quietly when the attendant gives us scornful looks when I ask for the key to the disabled toilet because the hand dryer noise is too overwhelming for you.


I sit quietly while you scream at me, trying to control the panic you feel because I gently touched your head when brushing your hair.

I sit quietly while the teacher tells me she knows about autism and that you are not autistic and asks if I would benefit from some parenting classes.

I sit quietly while the GP, the occupational therapist and the paediatrician agree how bad it is but say that there are no resources to support us further.


I lay quietly beside you when you tell me that you are the wrong sort of special and the wrong sort of different and you want to die.

As you can imagine: we struggled to respond to that with anything but our own quietness.

Then we read this.

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far away,
so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
I cry all day, my God, but you never answer;
I call all night long, and sleep deserts me.

But you, Holy One –
you sit enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors put hteir trust in you;
they trusted and you rescued them;
they cried to you and were saved;
they trusted you and were never disappointed.

Yet here I am, more worm than human,
the scorn of humanity, an object of ridicule:
all who see me mock me;
they shake their heads and sneer,
“You trusted God? Ha! Let God save you now!
If God is your friend, let God rescue you!”
Yet you drew me out of the womb;
you nestled me in my mother’s bosom;
you cradled me in your lap from my birth;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Don’t’ stand aside now that trouble is near –
I have no one to help me! (Psalm 22: 1-18, Inclusive Version)

It’s not been an easy four weeks but it’s been a huge privilege to hear one another’s stories and to share our fears, failures, and hopes. The stories from people’s lives have been like keys that unlocked the bible for us and the stories from the bible have helped us more deeply hear – and respond to – the stories.

We’re left wondering what next and will certainly want to answer that with something significant in the life of the congregation. We want to ask: What is God doing and how can we join in?

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Welcoming Disability: Week 3: 2015

This blog entry was originally posted by Fr Keith Hebden when he was our Associate Priest

In our third week in our four week course we heard the story of Ben Allison, a trainee vicar who is autistic and dyspraxic. You can read his story in full if you buy the Inclusive Church book “Disability”. Ben happens to be a friend of a couple who worship at St Mark’s – Ruth and Ellie – and we’d invited him to speak a year earlier. He’d been both entertaining and challenging that day as he provoked us to think with his suggestion that Jesus may have been autistic.

As a person with autism he speaks graphically of how he registers so many more of the sounds and sights of life than most other people, and how distracting that can be, in church.

I have heard the inaudible whine that the spotlight on the fifth pillar is making. I have heard the mutter of some crossed radio-frequency through the microphones. I have heard rustling papers, rustling robes, and rustling people. I can hear the rhythmic tapping of my fingers against the back of my hand. I know that the rest of you do not hear these things, but just because you cannot hear it does not mean it isn’t there. 

But he also writes of his overwhelming sense of how God sees him and loves him as he is.

God looks on me with the eyes of a father, the same way as he looked at Jesus.

There are members of our church and of our Boys Brigade who are diagnosed as autistic so this week’s story led some of our groups to quite a self-reflective space. But also to sharing some uncomfortable stories of people with autism that leaves them with far less opportunity than Ben has, in life. We wondered where God might be, in all this?

As usual we put a passage from the Bible alongside the story/stories from our lives (1 Kings 19).

God said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWH, for YHWH is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWH’s power – but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire – but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah couldn’t find God in the great big noises and the drama of nature. It was only when those sounds were out of the way that he could here the “gentle whisper” or what some translations call “the still small voice” of God.

We wondered how we might better help people to hear that still small voice in the midst of the bells, smells, and flickering lights of church.

We decided: we had better ask!