Tag: awareness

1 Year Review and Looking Forward…

1 Year Review and Looking Forward…

I cannot believe that after creating a Twitter account one year ago, YouBelong would be what it is now and heading in the direction it seems to be!

At the time, my Mum was working in a cafe and as I had a hospital appointment later that day, I decided to go into work with her to wait for my appointment. I can’t remember exactly what was going through my head other than that I had just completed my theology degree and was wondering what the purpose of it was as I was too unwell to use it. Then I was reminded of something my course director had told me about – online church. I didn’t really know what that would look like but knew there must be others like me who were too unwell to attend church some weeks, or maybe even every week, and others who could physically attend church but felt isolated by the complex theology and ‘Chistianese’ used in many churches. I can attend church most weeks, with the help of my parents, but have avoided some churches not because I cannot physically access them or because I can’t understand them, but because their theological teaching around pain, suffering and disability is damaging and hurtful. By giving others a safe place to share their thoughts and concerns around balancing life as a Christian with a life as a disabled or chronically ill person, and discover that God isn’t as harsh and judgmental, or formula abiding, as some places make Him out to be.

I quickly knew this project was going to be bigger than I ever intended or imagined when the number of followers grew. This was confirmed to me whilst at Spring Harvest just before Easter when a number of church leaders told me about people they knew of, within their congregation and in the community, that do not attend their churches due to disabilities or chronic illnesses. It wasn’t that they weren’t wanting to change that, but they didn’t know how.

Meeting leaders led to me being invited to a conference where lots of other church leaders gathered to discuss and help one another run their churches in the best way possible. Although a lot of the teaching was for physical churches, it gave me some ideas but more importantly, it grew my network and has helped raise awareness of people with chronic illness and disability in the Church – or not.

Around March, I started a blog (youbelong2019.wordpress.com) as a place to share my thoughts and experiences in greater detail as social media only allows for limited characters. I was shocked and surprised to find out just a few months after starting the blog that I was a finalist in the Premier Digital Awards! As the Premier Digital Conference preceded the awards show, I decided to attend that first and came away with lots of notes and more connections and I hope to work with these people over the coming year. The day flew past and suddenly YouBelong was being announced as winner of the up and coming blog! It still amazes me now and I am so thankful for all of you who guest blogged and who read the posts each week – thank you!

Before long, December was here and with that, advent. I knew I wanted to arrange something for us to do together as a community and after seeing the idea to study the 24 chapters of Luke in 24 days, that the 24 days before Christmas would be perfectly suited to that. I wanted to ensure that people from all platforms (YouBelong is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now) were able to participate so I posted every day on every platform. It was a bigger commitment than I initially realised but I was thankful for having done it as I not only learnt more about the stories in Luke’s gospel but also got to interact with more of you and have since heard stories of couples reading the chapter together each day and some people sharing them with others they know to encourage them which I love to hear!

And know we are into 2020, YouBelong is 1 year old and we have LOADS of exciting plans in place to move things forward in new ways this year. One of the biggest things that we hope and plan to do is register as a charity so that we have access to funding to enable the team to grow, to reach isolated people where they are, provide resources and training for churches and start a more official online church for those who cannot attend church, either at all or occasionally. This will also include a connect group which will begin on Facebook and be a closed group of people who study the same passages/ topic together so if you are interested in getting involved, I highly recommend following us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/youbelong2019 now as this will be launching in the next few weeks!

I am excited for what the year ahead has to bring and hope you are too! If you have any ideas of things you would like to see included then please get in touch either via email at info@youbelong.org.uk or on our social media.

For I know the plans I have for you…

For I know the plans I have for you…

As I step out into this new venture of YouBelong, I felt there was only one blog post that I could share with you first. The reason I am here.

I cannot honestly remember the moment it happened. I wish I could tell you that there was a massive ‘aha’ or ‘light bulb’ moment but there wasn’t as far as I remember. Instead, there have been lots of little signs and stepping stones along the way. The most recent of these came up shortly after setting up my twitter page and getting an amazing response from so many people both within the chronic illness and disabled communities and from church leaders who are aware of the gap there is in their churches but who do not know where to start to make the church more accessible. This has been of great encouragement so if you have been a part of that, thank you so very much!

Prior to that, I remember preparing to leave university and being told by my course director that just because I struggle physically, it doesn’t mean I cannot be a minister (when I started my degree, I was working as an active youth leader which involved a lot of physical activity and long hours which were just not possible anymore).

Throughout the course, we had discussed some disability theologies in class and I had done my own research out of curiosity as I couldn’t understand why God had allowed me to suffer and miss out on all I had dreamed of doing after I graduated as a youth minster. This became an ongoing area of personal study and to this day, I grab hold of every resource, whether a book, podcast, video or sermon notes, and try to get my head around different points of view and how that fits in with my understanding of my experiences, God and the Bible.

The dots all joined up and I realised that I could combine my experiences, gifts, love of people, personal study and training to create a worthy ministry for me to carry off with God’s help and guidance. I have been doing so apprehensively for the last 2 months but have been nervous to take the next step for fear of rejection, causing offence or sounding like I know better than others (which I can promise you now could not be further from the truth!) I am terrified but I feel that I have been called into this. A few days ago, I might have said that I think this is what God wants me to do as I enjoy it and don’t know what else to do but after reading back through my journal from when I first got ill back in 2014, it could not be clearer…

“Well of course there is a good reason for this… 1) I get a glimpse into the lives of what others like me who are struggling with illness are going through (so) I can help, inspire and encourage them. Maybe God intends for this to become my area of ministry? Who knows at the moment (other than God!)?”

This was written before I really got ill, before I started training at Ridley Theological College, before I had even considered YouBelong. Even if we don’t know what our future will look like or how it could possibly be brighter, God knows and He cares. For years I have continued to wonder why God wouldn’t reveal His plans for me, and maybe He won’t, but looking back, I can see now that He had. I just hadn’t really listened and trusted. I am so glad I cottoned on eventually. What do you feel God calling you into? How can you take the next step to getting closer to Him to discover your purpose and what can you do to get closer to that?