'Invited to Belong' - a new additional needs training resource developed in partnership with Youthscape - launched this weekend at the National Youth Ministry Weekend in Birmingham. Additional Needs Ministry Director, Mark Arnold, presented the resource, alongside Jemimah Allen from Youthscape and then free copies of 'Invited to Belong' were given to more than 800 conference delegates.
Everyone likes to be invited, to be included, to belong. However for one in five children and young people across the UK - 2.5 million in total - being invited is a feeling that they rarely experience.
Children and young people with additional needs can often find that they are excluded from a wide range of activities, that they aren’t invited, and this can include children’s and youth work. At least 90% of them have no contact with church-based children’s and youth work at all. This can leave them feeling lonely and isolated, forgotten about.
Jesus was wonderfully inclusive and taught us to invite everyone. In Luke 14 he says this…
“But when you give a banquet, invite those who are poor. Also invite those who can’t see or walk. Then you will be blessed.” (The Message)
Urban Saints and Youthscape have created a fantastic new resource called 'Invited to Belong' that will inspire, equip and enable you to reach out to, and invite to belong, children and young people with additional needs in your communities.
It was almost two years ago that the two organisations first got together to try and answer the really tricky question: ‘What can we do to resource the Church?' We know the heart is there to be welcoming and inclusive but so often we just don’t know where to begin. The challenge can seem so big and we know if we really engage with this stuff, it will require us to make changes, and change is hard.
But that’s what Jesus requires of us. We want to be a people - a Church - that are open to change, if it changes the lives of young people.
'Invited to Belong' is more than just a resource or series of session plans. It begins with an invitation. An invitation on a journey. An invitation to consider, alongside those you work with, how you might invite young people with additional needs to find a place of belonging within your community, your youth group, your church. It's a journey that has been designed to be taken together. One step at a time.
Inside the resource pack, are six envelopes, designed to be opened in order, each with a different reflective task, activity, or challenge inside. Once you’ve completed one, only then should you move on to the next.
These envelopes can be used in a variety of ways – you could set aside a Saturday, get the team together, and lock yourselves away together until you’ve opened every one! If that’s not your style, you could all arrive an hour early to youth group for six weeks and open one at a time… the choice of how you take this journey is up to you. But no matter how you chose to do it, there are some things you can all expect:
- You can expect to be inspired, by real stories.
- To be challenged by the stories we read in the bible of the encounters Jesus had with people who experienced difficulties, who needed something from him, and what Jesus taught us about inclusion and belonging through their interaction.
- To be informed and equipped, with practical knowledge and information that can help you to make real changes.
- You can expect to dream bigger. For God’s to expand your vision, and move you.
And finally, expect, not just your youth and children's work, but also for you, to be changed. To become people who have the heart, the knowledge, and the will, to see every missing young person invited to find a genuine sense of belonging within Gods church.
Young people like Kieran:
Belonging doesn’t just happen. It’s something we have to work at. Accessibility, inclusion, and belonging are not the same thing. Accessibility happens when we enable people to physically be in our space. We’ve put in a ramp, so now there’s no excuses for them not to join us! Inclusion is different, inclusion goes further, it says not only can you enter our space, you can take part in what we do, while you are there. Inclusion still doesn’t go far enough. You see, with inclusion, it doesn’t really matter if you there or not, it just matters that when you are there, you can take part. Belonging is so much more. To belong you need to be loved, to belong, you need to be missed. In fact, maybe you only truly belong when you are no longer there, and your community actively come to look for you.
That's the dream for 'Invited to Belong' - that youth leaders like you will accept the invitation to invite young people with additional needs to find belonging in your churches and groups. Let's commit to create places of belonging like this in communities all across the UK and Ireland!
'Invited to Belong' officially launched at the National Youth Ministry Weekend but it will be available to buy from Friday 19th November. In the meantime, you can visit the 'Invited to Belong' web page to start the journey. Why not gather your teams so you can all accept the invitation together.