Everyone is Welcome in God's House

Following their calling to see teenagers and young adults with additional needs raised-up to serve God and their church family, a small team at Holy Trinity Church in Leicester have created a monthly, accessible service they’ve named ‘God’s House’.

Helen Feathers and Emma Hayward have been worshipping at HTL for almost two decades. Helen is the mum of a 21-year-old with Down Syndrome, a supporter of young people with additional needs and an ever-learning evangelist, while Emma is a doctor and medical educator, and a member of the church preaching team.

God’s House is a small group, growing out of the increasing number of young people with additional needs who attend Holy Trinity and have a strong faith, but need a service they can actively follow, participate in, and lead as disciples.

Helen and Emma thought deeply about how to make worship enjoyable, engaging and accessible for the group, and lead services using Makaton sign, photos and widgit symbols to help make the spoken word visual.

When they get together, God’s House sing worship songs, enjoy a short, accessible sermon of three to five minutes, and share ‘active’ prayers together. They often play a game or a quiz and begin each session with chat-time around the tables to get to know each other.

God’s House has become a group for people to invite their friends to and a welcoming place for their families and carers. It’s also a space for these young people to share their gifts and learn how to reach their peers with the gospel, and God is clearly at work in this community.

We spoke to Helen and Emma about the importance of God’s House and how it’s playing its part in creating the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth…  

How did God’s House come to be?

Helen: I had watched an amazing group form at our church - five young people with learning disabilities (including my daughter) meeting with two wonderful leaders to do Bible stories, worship and prayer in a small group, and they called themselves ‘God’s Group’.
Having spoken to Emma and Revd Elaine Sutherland about how to make the preaching in church more accessible, we thought how wonderful it would be to have a whole service that people with learning disabilities could participate in fully, growing into leadership, using their own God given gifts, and reaching their own friends. 

Emma: HTL has a very diverse congregation, including people of all ages and abilities and those who don’t speak English as a first language. As a preacher I am very keen to ensure that I make the word of God accessible to everyone - everyone should be able to take away at least one idea from a sermon. However, there are some people who can’t manage a 20-minute sermon, and sadly some families who can’t even get into a church service because it can be too big, too noisy, or just too different for someone with a learning difference or neurodiversity. So, when Elaine suggested a new congregation to meet the needs of people who just can’t manage a normal service, it seemed the right thing to do. God’s love is for all people, and we wanted to create a space where people could encounter God, receive from his word and becoming a worshipping community regardless of any additional needs they have.

How is God’s House learning and growing?

Emma: We started in November 2023, supported by a couple of families who are there to serve and help with practical things like drinks and welcoming people. My children and husband are involved, and it is something we enjoy participating in as a family. It has been well received with more families joining. 

Helen: We learned from what they did together at God’s Group, their joy at being together, their different gifts, and their love of worshipping has been the inspiration. We are learning from these young people how great God is.
One young man prays for us as we begin and is actively involved in praying for others during the service; my daughter has a liking for inviting; another young man plays during the worship.
Others who have joined more recently are finding their place whilst having great fun and making friends. We are looking now for who the leaders will be in this growing community.

Where have you seen God at work among this worshipping community?

Emma: In a family that attended who have not been able to go to church together for years due to the additional needs their son has.
On another occasion, I asked my boys (aged 12 and 10) to sit at the same table as a lad who has additional needs so he could get to know them. Next thing I noticed was the three boys playing piggy in the middle, communicating without words but clearly making a connection.
And also, seeing people with additional needs ministering to others by praying for them.
We clearly are looking to raise up people with learning disabilities, to find their purpose for God and to love and serve him, but the spin-off has been the community of comfort and hope amongst the parents and carers who come. 

First published on: 15th April 2024
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