Sunday, August 30, 2015

Welcoming all God's children - Disability and our Church by Jill Kayser and Antonnia Hannah

Some years ago I took a call from a young mum whose young son had Down Syndrome.  She was looking for a church to attend with him and following some hurtful experiences during her “church shopping” phase, she decided it would be best to phone a church before arriving on the Sunday morning to ask if she and her son would be welcome!  Now you may find this hard to believe, but it’s what happened.

Normally the caller would have been directed to the minister, but as our minister Pauline Stewart was out of town at the time, the receptionist put her through to “Kids Friendly Jill”.  I listened to the mother’s stories of exclusion and intolerance and assured her that she and her son would be very welcome at our church and that I would look out for them and sit with them that Sunday. 

A few years before we had welcomed three year old Max, (who also has Down Syndrome), and his family into our church, St Heliers Presbyterian.  I remember the delight we experienced when Max’s family (including his two year old sister Charlotte) joined us on our church camp.  When parents Antonia and Leigh emerged from their tent on Saturday morning we knew we, their church family, needed to “step up”.  Immediately a second tent was found and erected to create extra sleeping space for the family on Saturday night.  It was wonderful to watch the church family rally around to give attention to and play with Max and his sister Charlotte, giving their parents a little reprieve from their 200% parenting duties!  What a blessing that time was to us, and we hope they were a little blessed too.  It certainly was a great way to welcome them into the faith community,
Antonia Hannah and son Max
church and preschool.

Being “Kids Friendly” means extending a warm welcome to all God’s children of all ages and abilities. To help our churches reflect on how effectively they welcome children (and adults) with disabilities, we asked Antonia to describe her experience of church and to advise us on what we could do to better support families who have a child with a disability.

“New Zealand is more “advanced” than many nations in their approach to and treatment of people with disabilities, but there is still a level of discomfort and fear amongst many when relating to people with disabilities,” says Antonia.  “And this societal attitude is reflected in many churches.  People with disabilities can come to church, but churches are not necessarily aware of the disabilities and sometimes don’t provide adequately for them or consider what it is like for disabled people. ” 

Some of the questions Antonia suggests we ask ourselves as church leaders are:
·        Do we know / are we aware of the congregation members who have disabilities?
·        Do we have ramps that cater for wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, and prams, say access to the altar?
·        Are the visually impaired able to follow a sermon that relies heavily on PowerPoint?
·        Are families of children with disabilities affirmed and acknowledged?
·        Are they welcomed at our playgroups and coffee mornings?
·        Are there opportunities for discussions about disability?
·        Are inclusive values and love for those with disability taught to the children of the church?

“St Heliers Presbyterian Church definitely is a part of my son’s life and a place he feels welcome and safe,” says Antonia.  Antonia has set up a disability network at her church so that people with disabilities or family members with disabilities can connect.  However she is concerned that many churches rely on a good and empathetic minister rather than a systematic awareness of the diversity of needs. “I think it would be really helpful if Churches ensured that the voices of disabled people were heard and that opportunities for consultations with congregational members with disabilities were made available” Antonia says “In that way if disabled people are struggling either physically or emotionally at Church they can share this. As good as it is New Zealand, for many families it can be difficult being ‘different’ and feeling the warmth and kindness of fellow Christians can make all the difference”.

In 2014 Antonia attended a Council for World Mission conference on disability in Kuala Lumpur.  One of the outcomes of this conference was the production of a booklet helping churches to engage with and reflect on disability more deeply.  It also includes some practical steps churches can take to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are met and that they are included in their churches and the community.  Download the booklet from  You can also view a document on ‘Disability Etiquette’ with information on enabling positive interactions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Supervision. Why Bother? by Catherine Richardson

Working with children and families can be the most rewarding and frustrating work possible! One Sunday it seems there are cheerful child-like sponges seated around you participating enthusiastically in the activities you have planned. You just know God is just touching their hearts – and yours. Another week it can feel like your carefully prepared lesson falls off a cliff to land in a crumpled heap – like that half made aeroplane that “someone “ created out of the activity – THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH FLYING!

Perhaps you find yourself today reading this feeling on top of the world “I am in just the absolutely right place, doing exactly what God has designed and called me to do”. Perhaps you are considering “why on earth did I offer to help with the children – who am I kidding?” I think we can all identify with the latter at different points in ministry. Which bring us to this blog…. Some reading may already have regular supervision in their ministry with children. Some may find themselves thinking “supervision - that’s for paid staff, I’m just a volunteer” or perhaps you might fall into the group that’s thinking “super what?”

Supervision is not a new concept. Many workplaces, including churches, offer this for staff particularly those who work with, or are responsible for, overseeing other people. Supervision focuses on the “work” of the supervisee and has an educative function. In a nut shell “supervision is a safe, confidential relationship, which provides a regular opportunity to reflect on our work and professional relationships” [1].

Supervision allows us to process the work that we are doing with children in a non-threatening, non-judgemental, unbiased “safe” place. The desired outcome is that we will grow in or into our role, developing it further and in turn grow more satisfied in ministry. Supervision assists in keeping ourselves and those we work with, safe. It helps to examine boundaries, maintains our accountability, challenges us, and also helps us release our potential, provides encouragement, self-awareness, and depending on what we are willing to put into it, can extend our faith (although this is more of a by-product rather than intention, unlike Spiritual Direction). “Having the opportunity to take already occurred or potential situations to supervision can provide a more complete perspective so that action takes place rather than reaction”.[2]Sometimes things happen that we just need to talk over with another person.

Back in 2006 the General Assembly moved that the Book of Order be amended to include several statements around child safety and protection. One aspect of this is that those employed by Sessions or Parish Councils “accept, and have professional supervision of their work from a suitably qualified person who is not a member of the parish concerned.” [3]Interesting that bit about not in the same parish – what do you do when the issues you are facing are with a parent, a child (of one of the elders) or the minister? Knowing the confidential nature of the supervisory relationship means you can work it through gaining perspective and perhaps finding a way to resolve it or “do it differently” next time.

I guess you could be thinking “that’s all very well Catherine, I’m not paid so supervision doesn’t apply to me”. You make a point, as often supervision does cost – not just in time and money, but also in trusting your supervisor. I encourage you to ask God if this is something that He would like you to explore. Ask your church if they could pay for an hour a month especially if you are a volunteer (some supervisors cost less than you think and some have sliding fee scales). Ask and listen to others who have supervision – how does it benefit them? Finally I’d recommend when starting supervision it pays to go and meet the person, “suss” them out, as the relationship is important.

If you are looking into investing the time and $ into yourself and the ministry you are in, go pop the jug on, make a cuppa and check out this link to the PCANZ Supervision Guidelines (especially pages 1,2. 5 and 6)

You could send Jill a message if you are looking for a supervisor and don’t know where to start, she is creating a list of possible people throughout the country.

I wish you well as you continue to build the church, may God bless you abundantly!

Catherine is a counsellor and supervisor in the Christchurch region. She is the mother of two uni aged daughters and enjoys working alongside her minister husband Brent. She has been involved in Children’s ministry since she was a teenager and spent 10 years on the children's ministry team at Hornby Presbyterian Church (now Hope Presbyterian). She now runs a private counselling practice and offers supervision to those involved in children’s ministry. You can contact her at

[1] 2007 p2.
[2] PCANZ Supervision Guidelines revised February 2011, p1.
[3] 07 PCANZ Supervision Guidelines p9