Building Sensory-Healthy Worship: A Guide for Congregations

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In  our places of worship, where we seek solace and community, there's an unspoken and a shared understanding that we gather to connect - with faith, and with each other. However, for individuals with sensory processing issues , what is meant to be a sanctuary can feel overwhelming. How can our faith communities lead with empathy and create inclusive, sensory-healthy environments that embody the true spirit of fellowship?

 

Recognising the Need

 

 

Congregations are diverse, and among us are individuals with sensory processing challenges. These might be people with autism, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, or other conditions that make them more susceptible to being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by stimuli. Their experiences in our places of worship — the echoes of singing or sound system, the fragrance of incense or communion, or the brush of fabric from someone sitting next to them  — can turn a haven into a place of distressing anxiety.

 

Recognising this need signifies taking the first step toward inclusivity. It's not merely about adjusting spaces but also nurturing an environment of understanding and acceptance within the congregation.

 

Simplifying the Stimuli

 

Start by considering the sensory experiences your space might entail. Bright lighting can be subdued with the use of dimmers or natural light. Consider offering noise-cancelling headphones for those who find musical parts of the service overwhelming. Simplify the visual environment where possible, reducing clutter and creating clear, open spaces that help reduce anxiety. Adding in different seating options and spaces to move can be such a simple blessing too!

 

In places where congregants gather for fellowship or meals, consider designating a 'quiet room' or an 'active room' - a space a little away from the crowd, offering a much-needed pause. Such rooms should be free from loud colours, harsh lighting, or any unnecessary noises and could be equipped with soothing elements like weighted blankets or soft, tactile objects or with swings, gym balls and mini trampets.

 

Education and Communication

 

Education is paramount. Sensory processing issues may not be apparent or well-understood by others in the community. Regularly scheduled discussions or workshops about sensory challenges can enlighten congregants, fostering a culture of empathy and support.

 

Additionally, communicate about available accommodations. Signs indicating the location of quiet areas, or notes in bulletins about sensory-healthy options, can go a long way in making everyone feel seen and catered for.

 

Encouraging Participation

 

Involvement in communal activities is at the heart of fellowship. Find ways to involve everyone, perhaps by offering alternative roles in group activities that cater to different comfort levels. Regularly check in with individuals or families about their specific needs, showing that they are valued members of the community.

 

Feedback and Continual Adaptation

 

Finally, remember that building a sensory-healthy worship space is an ongoing process. Encourage feedback, understand that needs evolve, and be ready to adapt. This journey, much like faith, is a continual process of growth and learning.

 

Through these steps, places of worship can become pioneers in promoting inclusivity, reflecting a community that embraces all of God's children, in all the ways He has made them. This journey reaffirms the essence of fellowship — a universal, unconditional love that transcends our differences, binding us in faith and humanity.

 

For more insights into sensory health and creating supportive environments, I invite you to explore the website resources including the 3 hr video “Sensory Healthy Church” programme. If you wish to discuss more specific strategies or need personal guidance, feel free to schedule a 15-minute discovery call with me. Together, we can build bridges of understanding and walk paths of inclusivity in faith.

 

 

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