From Exclusion to Inclusion: Our journey to find a Sensory Healthy Church

 

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, finding a place of solace and connection is so important. For many, a church serves as more than just a place of worship—it's a sanctuary, a community, and a source of spiritual nourishment. But for individuals with sensory sensitivities, the traditional church environment can often pose significant challenges. That's the experience we discovered when we moved from our caring community and found ourselves searching for a sensory safe place to worship.

 

So, what exactly is a sensory healthy church?

 www.annelaurejackson.com/church

At its core, a sensory healthy church is one that embraces and accommodates the diverse sensory needs of its members. It's a place where every individual, regardless of their sensory profile, can fully participate in worship, fellowship, and community activities without feeling overwhelmed or excluded.

 

But what does this look like in practice?

First and foremost, a sensory healthy church is a place of understanding and empathy. It's a community that recognizes and respects the unique sensory preferences and sensitivities of its members. Whether it's providing quiet spaces for reflection, using soft lighting to create a calming atmosphere, or offering alternative worship formats that cater to different sensory experiences, a sensory healthy church prioritises inclusivity and accessibility for all. The church we grew up in was exactly this. We didn’t feel judged if we had to take our kids out or ask for music to be turned down. They had created safe quiet spaces where parents and children who found it too much could go. The volunteers never forced our kids to do activities and celebrated small wins with them.

 

But perhaps most importantly, it was a place of acceptance and belonging. It was a community where individuals with sensory differences could feel valued, understood, and embraced for who they are. It was a space where we could fully engage in worship, participate in activities, and build meaningful relationships without fear of judgement or exclusion. This to us was a Sensory Healthy church.

 

Isn’t everywhere like that?

We loved it and just assumed that this is what every church would be like, a safe place where God’s people loved each other. But it only took a couple of trips to new churches to find this was not always the case. Most have set rules, that wouldn’t swerve for anyone, children avoided my children, whispering and parents gave us looks when my overwhelmed child climbed under the chairs or tried to hide under the jumper. No quiet spaces. Judging looks and no friendly words. We thought we would have to give up.

 

One church stood out in these failed attempts, as the sermon and desperate plea from the pulpit was on how we needed to include others and how the church needed to grow, or it would die. Compelled by this preach we shared the struggles we'd had, only to be met by rebuke. We felt lost and alone.

 

Finding the perfect place?

We didn’t attend church for another two years, we did Bible study at home and watched sermons online. We’d made a connection with Anne Laure Jackson and had a better understanding of our sensory needs and how to manage them better. But we lacked fellowship. We were in a new area now with no contact with others. So, we braved it and decided to try again. We braced ourselves for the new run of church shopping’. We prayed and picked a church and went…

 

On the first one we found it. Our destiny. This church was flowing in love and kindness. They had many families with sensory needs and so were open to making accommodations. We were shown how to turn the sound down in the foyer, the children’s church team sought my children out to make friends before the service began. We were made aware of the quiet space upstairs and asked about what we needed. My kids loved it. We loved it. 

 

When Anne Laure released her Sensory Healthy Church programme last year, we were so thrilled. We knew how much the church world needed this training. Even though our church was so good with us, we shared it anyway so they can share with others, and I love her heart and passion behind it.

 

How can you find a Sensory Healthy Church?

Anne Laure has a dream to see all churches as Sensory Safe spaces, sharing her programme around the world so that everyone can have the option to worship in community. Look out for her logo in churches or if you are already in a church, you could share her programme.

www.annelaurejackson.com/church

In conclusion, this sensory healthy church is a beacon of inclusivity, compassion, and understanding. It's a testament to the power of empathy, love, and community in creating a more welcoming and accessible world for all. And as we continue to strive for greater inclusivity and acceptance in our churches and communities, may we remember the importance of embracing every sense and honouring the diverse needs of all individuals.

 

Together, we can create churches where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued—a true sanctuary for the soul.

 

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