It’s Tuesday and the carpark of Edwardstown Baptist Church is packed. The Community Centre is buzzing with activity; people cook busily in the kitchen groups leave with armful of groceries for delivery and dozens of guests arrive to enjoy a shared meal.
The community is deliberately inclusive, with people of all walks of life, ages and abilities taking part and finding a shared sense of family.
For years, Edwardstown Baptist Church has run Gwen’s Pantry, a program run by volunteers that distributes food donations from supermarkets to local schools. They were also running a small friendship program. But when a young man with a disability volunteered to help, incredible changes began to take place.
Today between 50-60 people attend the Friendship Club each week, with more than 50% identifying as having a disability. Activities include basketball, cooking classes, assisting in the Gwen’s Pantry food run, card making, snooker and once-monthly celebrations such as a disco or sports night.
They also help cook and serve a meal each week for themselves, their carers, and anyone else who would like to join in.
The church is also working closely with Lutheran Disability Services who are now co-located at the site.
“The beauty of it is that we have people who never found their place before who feel part of this community and this family. It’s just been such a huge success,” says Pastor Patrick Gillespie.
“But the real strength has been the difference it has made to our church. It’s really helped us be connected to the local community, rather than operating in isolation. It’s benefitted our whole congregation – and put a lot of health into our church.”
The Edwardstown Baptist Church is an excellent example of how with just a little bit of thought and planning, church activities can become so much more inclusive. For example, they have recently planned and planted a garden that is accessible to everyone.
A wheelchair access ramp has been installed and food is grown in raised planter boxes, which have been built allowing plenty of space in between so that gardeners can work comfortably. The harvested crops replenish the shelves of Gwen’s Pantry.
“It doesn’t matter if you identify as having a disability or not. It’s about giving back to the community, and everyone can do that.
“We just wanted to create a community where everyone belongs.”
On Tuesday afternoons, the team at Edwardstown Baptist Church run a Friendship Club tailored for those in their wider community living with disabilities. See more here: https://vimeo.com/559762108
If you or your church are interested in sharing ideas about social inclusion and how we can better support people with a disability to participate in our churches, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org