Our (rather puzzling) name comes from the Greek ‘tîmê’, meaning ‘honour’. The word was used by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:23 to describe how members of the church who are often left on the margins should be especially honoured within the body of Christ. Seeing this realised is at the heart of our vision and our ministry.

Tiō was started in Belfast Bible College by two of the academic staff (Dr Ian Dickson and myself). We both have children with intellectual disabilities, and we were inspired to develop education and formation courses in disability, theology, the Bible and the church. Increasingly invited out into the church to offer practical and theological support, and convinced of God’s leading, we moved our ministry out of the college. We were joined by former students and Christian professionals working in the context of intellectual disability, and so Tiō was born.

For Tiō, being brave is essential to our unrelenting, faith-filled obedience to God’s call. Like when we step into conversations where people want advice about practical problems’, but it’s really attitudes and theological perspectives that need to change.

When narrow doorways aren’t as big a barrier as narrow mindsets, it requires bravery to call the church to reflect on how we have been influenced by secular biases towards intellectualism and productivity. The bias marginalises those whose intellect might not allow them to engage with our faith tradition in typical ways.


It also requires bravery to want to encourage the church to confront the othering’ that keeps people whom we see as different at arm’s length, excluded from our circles of friendship. To highlight that much of our ministry with people who have intellectual disabilities is siloed into special” groups, and that the responsibility for them is far too often assigned to parents or people who have professional skills.

We need bravery to challenge the top-down model of ministry to people with intellectual disabilities, to embrace them as indispensable to the body (1 Corinthians 12:22) with unique gifts to offer the community. And of course, we need to be brave in the face of the continual financial challenges common to small Christian charities.

But it’s not only Tiō that needs bravery. A church moving beyond inclusion” to communities of belonging, (recognising that it isn’t our gift to include those whom God has already included), requires bravery. For churches to initiate change that might seem uncomfortable is hard. To reach out to many families living with intellectual disability in their localities who don’t know Jesus, mobilising their many resources in respectful, creative ways that offer friendship, support and love requires bravery. People with intellectual disabilities and their families need bravery to own their place in the body, offering their gifts where they have long been marginalised or ignored.

"A church moving beyond ​“inclusion” to communities of belonging, (recognising that it isn’t our gift to include those whom God has already included), requires bravery."

Here’s a story that illuminates this bravery. Pastors of a local church in a well-educated, middle-class congregation asked Tiō’s Accessible Discipleship group of adults with intellectual disabilities, Following God Together (FGT), to take the morning service – including the sermon! Katie agreed to preach’ in a back and forward conversation with the leader, Rachael. After many conversations and rehearsals, the morning came and everyone gathered at church – except Katie. With five minutes to go, Rachael considered the safe option” of preaching herself but, bravely, she asked another FGT member, Irvine, completely unrehearsed, to take Katie’s place. And, bravely, Irvine agreed. In his sermon, Irvine told people why he loved Jesus, how Jesus helped him and what he was learning from the Bible. As Irvine shared his gift that morning, the whole community experienced more of what it means to be the body of Christ, characterised by diversity and interdependence. He highlighted the giftedness and indispensability of every member and the honouring of people whom the world often disrespects and undervalues. The bravery of everyone that morning meant that the values of the counter-cultural kingdom of God were embodied and God was glorified.

Today, Tiō pursues its vision in delivering online training and formation courses in ministry with, by and to people with intellectual disabilities and on pastoral care of families.

We have an Accessibility Audit for churches and organisations seeking to develop as places of deep understanding, belonging, nurturing and support for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. We seek to be a voice in speaking, publishing and teaching within and beyond the academic world, always seeking to work in partnership with others.

Last year our ministry led us to work with Christians in the UK, Europe, North Africa and Mauritius. We continue to pursue our unrelenting, faith-filled commitment to God’s call, depending on Him to produce the fruit of our ministry. For more information go to: tioas​so​ci​ates​.org