19 January 2016
Spring Harvest 2016: everyday game changers
This blog was first published by Spring Harvest – a teaching and worship event for everybody. Spring Harvest are featuring everyday game changers in the lead up to the event this Easter. You can find out more about Game Changers and Spring Harvest 2016 here.
'My friends will never understand what the preacher is saying, nor can they join in the worship.' These were Madeleine Potter's thoughts during one service at the evangelical church her family attended. She was thinking about those with learning disabilities from the residential home run by the charity she and her husband David had founded.
Madeleine's concern for their spiritual welfare prompted her to start a special Bible group, but with no suitable material available, she started from scratch and developed her own. It worked!
She taught the truth simply but not childishly, making the love of God understandable and accessible to everyone. People began to respond, find faith in Jesus, pray and grow spiritually. One group in Reading quickly expanded to three groups.
In 1986 Madeleine and David, founders of Prospects, a leading organisation for people with learning disabilities and their families, were invited to run a special series of meetings for adults with learning disabilities at Spring Harvest. As one young man with learning disabilities left the room, he paused, tapped his chest and smiled, 'Jesus in here now!'
Every year since then, a Prospects team has led celebrations at Spring Harvest. Attended by many thousands over the years, they have not only brought spiritual blessing but also changed the attitudes of countless Spring Harvesters towards people too often marginalised in society.
Furthermore, some people who saw what Prospects was doing at Spring Harvest started something similar back home, and now there are 220 church-based groups in the Prospects UK network.
In 1987 Tony Phelps-Jones joined Madeleine's Reading group as musician and worship leader, and in due course came to Spring Harvest too. His passion was to see people with learning disabilities enabled to worship despite their difficulties with language, reading or memory. He wrote dozens of accessible songs, developing techniques and a worship style that helped everyone to participate. CDs of these songs are enjoyed widely by the groups.
Many churches where these groups are based talk about the blessing of having people with learning disabilities in their congregation and how they have been strengthened and enriched. In becoming accessible and inclusive they have become a better place for everybody.
Madeleine had no idea that through what she started all those years ago, God would change the lives of so many people.