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The Christmas story – a gift for all

How do we welcome everyone into the Christmas story this year? asks Lifewords

In an increasingly divided world, the story of Jesus’ birth is the demonstration of the gospel as an invitation to all. As we retell the story each year, it is an opportunity to be welcoming, as God welcomes each of us.

A prominent image that comes through any modern-day Nativity story is of Jesus being born in a stable. Luke 2:7 tells us that Mary wrapped her firstborn son and laid Him in a manger because, there was no guest room available for them”. Essentially, Jesus’ young parents were turned away from everywhere, finding themselves with no choice but a straw-filled outhouse in which to have their baby. 

However, this out of the way location (the scene for the humble beginnings of Jesus’ life) didn’t stop those on the fringes of society – the shepherds and sages – being invited and welcomed to meet Jesus. As churches throw open their doors this Christmas, desiring to welcome everyone in, how many people will feel excluded because the building, service or content simply isn’t accessible? Whilst being accessible to all is a challenge to many churches, it is also a huge opportunity. 

The UK government recognises 11 million people as having long-term illness, impairment or disability. That’s one person in every six. Therefore, there is a high chance that many people attending church this Christmas will have a disability, which in many cases will be invisible. 

For those with certain disabilities, barriers of comprehension may keep them from joining in. Whilst they may desire to come along to a nativity or carol service, midnight Mass or a Christmas Day service, a fear of not understanding what is happening may keep them away. 

For those with certain disabilities, barriers of comprehension may keep them from joining in.

Sometimes, we can all miss things or don’t even realise what is needed when providing for those with disabilities. Whilst these might include attitudes and approaches, it also includes very practical things about our church settings and services. For example, is there a signer? Does your church use large enough and readable enough fonts? Does your church offer services and events that cater for different learning styles? There are lots of practical things that churches can do to make themselves and their services and events more accessible. 

Lifewords believes that the Bible’s words are good news for everyone. If these life-giving words are to reach more people, this has to include people who are non-hearing, visually impaired and who have a lower reading age. More needs to be done to welcome everyone into the story. 

That is why Lifewords has partnered with Livabilty, Torch Trust and Biblica to ensure its free Christmas resource OUTSIDE/IN is accessible to all this year. This illustrated booklet and accompanying resources have been designed to extend access to the Bible for people who are non-hearing, visually impaired, and who have a lower reading age.

The key message of OUTSIDE/IN is that everyone is welcome into the Christmas story. The refrains in the booklet make the connection between characters in the Christmas story and people in society today – teenage mother, fatherless child, the broken-hearted with shattered dreams, hopeful travellers who are looking for answers. These ancient characters connect with the lives and situations of people today; we can relate to their struggle, and if they are invited into the story, then we can be too. 

Corin Pilling, assistant director of community engagement for Livability, commented: By using more accessible resources like OUTSIDE/IN, churches can do so much to create a place of welcome for all. There are always a range of communication requirements within a congregation. With its careful consideration to invite all into the story, making for an accessible narrative, these resources will support more people to celebrate the Christmas story.”

For free accessible resources, including booklets, posters, cards, banners, plus a presentation and downloadable animation, visit www.lifewords.global/christmas. For practical insights to equip churches to be more welcoming and accessible places, check out Livability’s report More than Welcome.

Matt Currey is UK development manager at Christian charity Lifewords.

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