A report from an award-winning church project in Hemel Hempstead that provides fun and fellowship for children with special educational needs
This spring afternoon, lots of children are singing enthusiastically. According to Tess, the adult leading the worship session: “It varies from week to week whether people join in, or just sit there, but it doesn’t matter – you just go for it.” That is the spirit of this lively, family-focussed church project. It’s Messy Church – the 12-year-strong creative church scheme for all ages – but with a difference. Here, the facilities and activities on offer are especially tailored for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) and their families. Messy Church Send meets every second Sunday of the month at Adeyfield Free Church in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire; it has been running for three and a half years.
One parent, Helen, tells us: “My child, Mark, has autism. He behaves a little bit differently, and here people understand. He likes craft activities and the social side of Messy Church. This is a place where he can feel comfortable among people.” Messy Church Send caters for people with a range of conditions including cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, blindness and autism. There are 17 families that regularly attend, using the project’s three sensory rooms. The free play room has a ball pit, building blocks, a vibrating platform and toys. The guided activity room is for activities which this afternoon include painting, making candles, icing cakes and trying scented herbs. The quiet room offers semi-darkness, with gentle, light-oriented activities. The worship session is also delivered in a sensory way: for example, if the story is about baptism, children interact with water as a part of the talk.
Describing how the project began, the Revd Peter Blackband, Adeyfield Free Church’s minister, says: “It came from a real heart desire for the church to do something that would provide a gateway into church for families with children with special needs. We recognised that, as welcoming as we tried to be, parents with children who struggled with ordinary forms of church weren’t always comfortable. So we made something where they can be comfortable…
This is an extract from the June 2016 edition of Reform.