Disability News

Enabling Church 3.6.14

I’m looking forward to speaking at the Midlands Enabling Church Conference 2014 next Tuesday (June 3rd). For more information on the conference you should visit the Enabling Church Website – this is an important day for anyone involved or interested in living and working with disabled people in Churches. I’ll be  offering some thoughts on Identity and Future Hope in Disability.

Other more important/eminent/noteworthy people speaking at the event include Joni Eareckson Tada, John Swinton and Roy McCloughry. It’s an event teeming with expertise and wisdom and a real privilege for me to be involved. Don’t miss out.


I Am Not….

Over the last couple of days, I’ve sat in Gosport and Southampton, listening via Skype while a dude named Eric, who I’ve never met, played in a studio in Rochester, New York, recording drums on a bunch of my songs. This strikes me as somewhat crazy. While I’d rather be in New York – who wouldn’t rather be in New York than Gosport? – this is a pretty good deal. It’s meant that the EP I’m working on has had the drummer who fitted it just right play on it. It’s also enabled us to welcome Eric, and Brian, who engineered the session and entertained us royally, into the community that is building around the songs and the vision behind them.

Writing and recording songs has been one my favourite things to do since I started in bands around the age of 18. There are loads of reasons, but one of them is that the moment when you realise that you have a good song on your hands is unlike almost anything else. A good song is a good song, whether it’s written by the latest production line pop strumpet, or a grizzled veteran. When it comes to music, the fact that I’m a wheelchair user is of no consequence at all. If my songs are good, they’re good. If they’re not so good…

My cerebral palsy is a big part of my life, but it does not define me. I’m not Haydon, the disabled ordinand (trainee vicar), or Haydon the wheelchair singing guy (although I’ve been called that before). I’m Haydon, the son of God. That’s the whole of it. Not a mention of disability anywhere in that identity is there? We’re identified first, foremost and only by the loving action of God, through Christ, in our lives. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s funny in a piece on inclusion to say something like this, which you, the reader, may perceive to be exclusive. Sorry about that. For my part I’ve found that every label other than son of God that either I’ve used, or has been used about me to identify me gives me, or others, the opportunity to either think of myself as better or worse than other people. All are equal in the eyes of God. All. No one is better. No one is worse. That is inclusion. That is an enabled society. Anything else is a pale reflection of God’s intention for society.

I strongly think that we, in this country at this time, have a key role to play in the development of a new kind of society. Not only can we be primary movers in social change, so that the loving kindness and justice of God can prevail in our broken society, but we need to learn to live, love and act in such a way as to make our communities real and whole. Just as no one is excluded from the offer of life in Christ, so no one should be excluded from our church families, from the communities we build together. Whether that means you change physical elements of church life, open up to the possibility of people around you being depressed (there will be some depressed people that you know, whether you are aware of their depression or not) or you consider what an inclusive, enabled community that features people from all the parts of God’s glorious creation might actually look like, this is something that we need to get stuck in to, in this place, in this time.

Let me not be known as Haydon the wheelchair singing guy (please, not that). Let me be known as Haydon, the son of God who abounds in loving kindness and partners with God in bringing about His kingdom. Let us be remembered in history as the generation marked out by our abandoned love for Christ and all of His beloved sons and daughters, including those who our society and, God forbid, our Church, currently disables.

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Disability Uncategorized

Rash Words Are Like Sword Thrusts (Livability Community Mission)

Our guest blogger today is Haydon Spenceley. He is 28, a musician, a son, brother, fiancee, Church of England ordinand, wheelchair user and a strong writer about himself in the third person. Really though more than all those things he is a son of God who’s trying to learn to trust and not figure things out.

He writes for us on the abuse he has recently faced due to his use of a wheelchair.

The other day, as I was paying for my shopping in a well known supermarket, a lady pushed past and called me a “stupid spastic”. I think.  I say I think that’s what happened because, although I heard the phrase being used, I had no idea that it was directed towards me, until later on. It seems that perhaps I got in her way. Perhaps I just wasn’t supposed to be breathing the same air as her. When I realised, a lot of things happened at once. I was shocked, surprised, disappointed, hurt, and even a little bit amused.

One of the first reactions which came to mind when I did realise, was to wonder how the lovely lady could possibly know me so well having never spoken to me before, or met me, to my knowledge. You see, I am indeed a stupid spastic. Stupidity is, of course, a relative and subjective term, but I have to say that I have, on many an occasion in the past, both recent and distant, behaved in such a way as to be deemed “stupid”. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my time. I expect you have too. Even further than this, I am, too, a spastic, given my condition, Spastic Diplegia (a type of Cerebral Palsy). I must admit that I am impressed as to the diagnostic skills of my verbal assailant, who must have analysed my physical abilities and posture very swiftly in order to render such an accurate diagnosis. Of course, I had no time to applaud her obvious medical skill, but I hope to meet her again, so that I can suggest an immediate change of career path.

After my initial defence mechanism of humour died down (see sample above) I quickly got to be quite sad. First of all, I don’t like getting in people’s way. I am self-conscious about such things. Second of all, I really don’t like being called a spastic, however accurate it might be. It seems to me that no-one ever means it in the medical sense and that, instead, it’s a kind of cheap points scoring, one-up-manship, where the point is to once again draw to my attention that I am not as good as other people, even though I know that I am.

You’ll be pleased to know this isn’t a bleating peace. I’m getting to the good bit. As the evening wore on, my mind turned to Jesus (aren’t I holy) and the story at the end of Mark chapter 3. Here, Jesus’ family have decided that he’s lost the plot and come to “take charge of him”. Upon doing so, they’re met with some of Jesus’s best parabolic wordplay. Who would seriously have known what He was talking about at the time? “Who are my mother and my brothers? he asked. Well actually, they were standing outside, as well as being well known in the area, so it should have been obvious. The point perhaps, was that they had failed to understand who Jesus was, and what He was about. Whilst not rejecting His family, He also wanted to make it clear that He was about His Father’s business, and wanted to surround Himself with those who  would share in the work with Him.

Proverbs 12:18 talks about the responsibility that goes with speaking words over people and in to their lives.

“Rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Even though, in the story in Mark 3, no words of the family are recorded, it is possible to see that what was spoken towards Jesus that day by His family were indeed akin to sword thrusts. It was the same for me on Saturday, as I fairly quickly had to return once again, to the question of identity, and whether I see myself as more than something stuck to the bottom of the shoe of society. I know many people go through much, much worse on a far more regular, even many times daily basis than I do, but it was a jarring, difficult experience.

Over the last few days, I’ve been challenged in two regards:

1.   Jesus went through much worse than anything I ever do as He was misunderstood, insulted, unloved and denigrated by those that He loved. He stands with people who are marginalised, even if they are only marginalised for a fleeting moment, and continually lavishes grace, love and peace upon us, that we might truly see that we are who we are because of who He is, and that it is who He is that is crucial.

2.   He lavishes all this upon us so that we might be people who are wise, and have wise tongues, or wise ways of communicating. We are to be people of love, charity, kindness, mercy and forgiveness, whatever people do or say to us. This doesn’t mean we always have to be nice. The Church should get righteously angry in its stand for justice for all people that the kingdom might come. It does mean, though, that we need to think about the words we use, the labels and values that we give people. Most of all, we need to remember, at all times if possible, that we are beloved children of God, made to be loved by Him and to love others. So is everybody we meet. So, even as we season our words with salt, and agitate for justice as salt and light in the world, we should know others, and know ourselves, as children of God. That way no words or labels that others place on us can truly hurt us again, and nor should we be guilty of doing likewise.   Read the blog here.


When Healing Doesn’t Come

All of us, I think, want to be healed of something. Whether it’s something outwardly obvious, like a condition or an illness, or something internal like depression, or even a character trait or flaw that we or others perceive, none of us, if we’re truly honest, would say there was nothing we would change about ourselves. And that’s quite apart from the game some of us like to play where we look at others and decide how we would change or improve them. We’re a fun bunch aren’t we?

If you’ve read my stuff here before you’ll know that I have issues with depression. You might well have picked up too that I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair to get around (and to gain free entry to sporting events). As I’ve grown up around the evangelical charismatic wing of the Church, I’ve had a pretty wide variety of experiences of healing. I think I’ve seen miracles happen. I’ve definitely seen medical professionals and carers act as agents of the miraculous in changing my life and the lives of many people. And yet I’ve also seen many people who have had sicknesses, ailments, life-ending diseases, for whom grace and mercy has not included a cure or healing. What are we to make of this?

Thinking about answering the question though, I’ve kept coming back to one thought: Are we seeking healing so that we can be who we were created to be, or are we seeking healing so that we can be someone else? In short, are we seeking healing from ourselves? Jesus healed the sick. So did the disciples. We are called to do likewise in His name. Often, healing encounters in scripture begin with “what do you want me to do for you?” or some such question as this. The question is not “what do you want me to make of you?” or “who do you want me to make you?” There is the possibility of us carrying a prototype image of the perfect Christian man or woman around with us and aspiring to that. Personally, I think this is dangerous.

The only measure of success in the Christian life is in our fruit and in our being changed more and more into the likeness of Christ. Sadly, and I do mean this, I have had to find a way to come to terms with the idea that Cerebral Palsy might be part of the person that God designed me to be.I believe, instinctively, that this is possible, whilst at the same time believing another person with Cerebral Palsy might be healed (although I’ve never heard of such a healing taking place). What I mean by this is, in the provision of God, I don’t always get what I want (probably a good thing), but somehow I have to trust God that He knows what I need. If I could have convinced Him to get rid of my CP I would have. So far it hasn’t happened. We all need the (promised) healing of salvation, though. Perhaps we also need to ask God to heal our senses of self, our perspectives on who we are, our aspirations, so that when good and bad things come, we can remain firm in the faith that has been set before us, and find some way of staying thankful.

I realise that I have by no means explained why healing doesn’t always happen. I think it would be a falsehood to claim it were possible to explain it all. Wherever you find yourself as you read this, whether you are aware of your need for healing, or whether you rejoice in having already received it, or you mourn for the lack of it, I want to close by encouraging all of us to look to Jesus.

Jesus may not answer every question. Some do, maddeningly, remain unanswered. He will, though, go before us and stand with us in whatever we face. As His strength is most clearly shown in overcoming the ultimate weakness of the cross, so when I am weak, then the strength and vulnerability of Jesus, His victory, is what I can look to. So can you.


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Disability Uncategorized

Ministry as a Disabled Person in the Church of England: A Vision Haydon Spenceley

Ministry as a Disabled Person in the Church of England: A Vision


Haydon Spenceley


20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member


1 Corinthians 12:20-24 (NRSV)


You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.


Leviticus 19:14 (NRSV)


In the church of the modern day, perhaps more so than any previous stage in Christian history, diversity is a key driver. By the grace of God, people of all backgrounds, experiences, outlooks, strengths and weaknesses are continuing to be drawn into communities of faith, relationships of discipleship and intimacy and drawn along into the glorious, mysterious journey of life, faith and hope that is our response to the wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ. The church has always been for all, just as Christ died once and for all, but as the Church of England seeks to maintain and develop its calling to be a Christian presence in every community, the challenge remains for us as an institution, as the church, to reflect the wondrous beauty and diversity of God’s creation and the redemptive, reconciling work of Christ in how we are led and how we lead.


As a disabled person, I find passages such as those quoted above to be both exciting and daunting. Whether I see myself as one of those parts of the body which is weaker or not (and I think this is something which is difficult for each individual person to rightly perceive about themselves), it is more than true that my journey towards and through training for ordination in the Church of England has not been an easy one. Indeed it should not be easy, not many of the most worthwhile things in life are. However, as I have been humbled, formed, taught and most importantly blessed, by both the opportunity of being at theological college and being granted the privilege of time to stop and specifically focus on growing in my relationship with God and my love for his church, I have spent much time thinking about how disability can play a part in ministry. Not merely is disability something to be dealt with or worked around, as part of ministry. Rather I would argue it is something to be celebrated, as Paul seems to intimate in a passage from Corinthians 12 above. Disabled people are part of the church. They should be. They must be, in order for the church to be healthy, to truly reflect the will of God for his bride and most of all, to be holy. A church which puts a stumbling block before a disabled person, which does not allow them to fully integrate, participate and, where appropriate, lead, is not a holy Church. It is not the church that Christ envisaged, that he called us to be.


It is my contention that the church has an opportunity perhaps greater than at any previous time in its history to be a force for social change in this generation, in this time. As social care and welfare continue to be under review and discussion, I believe it is time for the church to take centre stage as the one actor in society through which people, whatever their levels of  functionality or impairment, are treated with equal levels of love, respect as creations loved by God, made to look like him, known to him by name and delightful to him. It was never God’s intention for social disability to enter the world. I believe passionately that one of the key potential roles of the Church, hopefully spearheaded by the Church of England in the coming years, could be the attempt to eradiate social disablement, through loving acts of kindness, service, education, and through the grace and power of the Spirit.  This is something which I think God is calling me to, calling us to, as people who work in this area in His Church. It may seem an impossible task, but nothing is impossible for our God. The day when our Churches, our communities, do not put a stumbling-block before those whose functionality is not at a level that the outside world would deem “full”, when someone might be able to lead the Church, regardless of their physical or emotional strengths and weaknesses if it is deemed right for them to do so, is closer than it has ever been before. Let’s work hard to give everyone in our Churches an equal opportunity to join in and play the game!


Haydon Spenceley


This article was originally published in The Church Times, July 5th 2012


Please stop Pretending I’m Not Human

 Please Stop Pretending I’m Not Human

“Good morning sir. May the Lord God grant you the healing that you need. Amen”
I had an interaction this morning, of which this was the sum total. As I was pushing along towards Abington Street in Northampton, a man walked towards me, said those words, hit me on the shoulder and carried on walking. He did not look back. I know. I checked.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me in my life (I figure I must need an awful lot of healing, but then don’t we all), but today, in the light of a lot of things that have happened in the last couple of years, the camel’s back has been broken by the straw. And so, unusually for me, I’m posting a blog on Facebook, to make a plea:
Please, stop pretending I’m not human.
There, I said it. I have Cerebral Palsy, it is a neurological condition, through which I have decreased mobility, increased spasticity (I have a great deal of spasticity, I’m sure you’ll all agree) and use a manual wheelchair to get around. As any of you who know my story will be aware, I am, in fact, very fortunate to have the level of ability, lifestyle, prospects, loving friends and family and everything else that I do have. I could easily, very easily indeed, be dead by now.
So what’s the problem? Well, it turns out that, in spite of the fact that the government and welfare system are pressing in on disabled people to a greater extent than ever in recent times, this isn’t the problem. It also turns out that, in spite of the fact that it is still demonstrably harder for disabled people to get jobs, build relationships and find, be accepted in to and maintain and develop community than it is for virtually any people group in our society, this isn’t really the problem either. It also turns out that, in spite of this being the easy answer to any question or desire to apportion blame, God isn’t the problem either and, wonder of great wonders, neither am I.
No, in actual fact, to my increasing disappointment, it turns out that Christians are the problem.
Now, I am a Christian. I should be, I’m training to be a minister (I know, ridiculous, let’s talk about that another time shall we). I also, those evangelicals amongst you will surely be pleased to know, believe that God is living, present, active, intimately interested, in love and involved in the lives of His people, and that He is engaged in the healing, reconciliation and redemption of the world, and the people, He made for Himself, as He delights in us, so that we might delight in Him. God heals. Now, today. I’m living proof of it. I know many of you are too.
But I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure I can put up with the dehumanising theology that many of us have foisted upon us by weak, possibly even false teaching. We all have a need. That need is Jesus. No less, but no more either. Jesus, I believe, fulfills every need that any of us has, or will ever have. More than that, He is who we were made for. We don’t really have any other purpose other than to love Him, accept love from Him, love ourselves and love others. Nowhere, not anywhere, in all of Scripture, the experience of humanity, or just common sense, does it say, anywhere, that we will not have troubles in this life. In fact, when the Spirit is sent to be our friend, guide and counselor at Pentecost, isn’t it actually because we WILL have problems in this life, whether they be being persecuted, sickness, relational difficulties, or even just living in a Conservative-led country. I’ve been thinking, and saying for quite a while now, that actually, it is a misunderstanding of God and His purposes for us as people, to think that difficulty shouldn’t be part of our daily life. It should. It’s crucial. It leads me to lean on Jesus in humility. It causes me to realise I can’t do life on my own, and even if I could give it a go for a while, I don’t want to, because it’s a pointless waste of energy and time. The healing that I need, I am more and more convinced, is a healing of the heart, of my mind, of my perspective. I long to have a right sense of my own identity and importance, and to respect and honour God, as I seek to respect and honour others.
So, yes, I do need healing. As someone said to me recently, Jesus willingly allowed himself to be demeaned, slandered, hurt, criticised, insulted, even killed and, even as He (humanly)must have been frustrated and crushed in His disappointment, prayed “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” The gentlemen with whom I had my brief encounter has no idea what he has done or continues to do to me. He probably thinks he’s doing a good thing, following a teaching, being obedient to God. He has no idea of the hurt and distress, questioning, and anger his actions caused me. I too, have no idea what led him to say what he said. I do know that, whether he meant for my physical body to be healed or not (I strongly suspect he did, but want to give him the benefit of any doubt) there’s much in me that would benefit from being different or changed: character, temperament, behaviour, language, sense of humour (!) and so on. I need to be humble and keep coming back to God with those things and parts of my life.
At the same time, I need you, friends, brothers and sisters, to help me out. We’re all people. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and as I said above, I personally believe we all have a need. We all have the same need, whether our bodies are good, bad or indifferent. It remains the same whether you are a PhD toting MENSA member, or whatever the opposite of that is. It remains the same whether you have a Masters (or even an MTh!!!) in Theology, or the extent of your theological education and knowledge is thinking “this life is a bit crap, there must be more than this.” Whoever you are and whatever you’re doing with your life, we’re called to life, to love, to hope, and to freedom, because of the God-man Jesus Christ. We need to come to him and ask, and receive, the life that he offers to us, afresh everyday. I honestly, truly believe, and not just because of pigheadedness or unwillingness to change, that to limit the view we have of what God wants to do with us to some kind of higher state of humanity where all the guys end up like George Clooney in his mid ER period, and all the ladies can strut their stuff like Angelina Jolie, but that in both cases we’re also much more pious and Biblically literate, is just hogwash. But so many of our Churches look like they are aiming for this. Why is that?
Jesus, when he was resurrected, was recognisable by his wounds. They weren’t shameful, they were signs of victory, of a war won once and for all. I’m proud of my weaknesses, the physical ones, and the ones you can’t see. I rejoice in them, because they show me that I am real, I am alive, that I have experienced life, the way God intends me to experience it, warts and all.
So yes, I do need healing. So do you. But I don’t need healing in the way you think I do. Nor do you, my friend, necessarily need healing in the obvious ways that I can see. We need to relate to ourselves, to God, to one another, and come in humility to the grateful place of receiving whatever God has for us because, and I am certain of this, it’ll be much better than any plan I can come up with for how I’m going to make my life better.
Please stop pretending I’m not human. To be human is an enormous, wonderful privilege and blessing, as well as a responsibility. It is to identify with God. God loved humans so much, He became one and came and lived among us, just so we could have a common experience and share in the wonder of it together. The fact that I am alive and breathing today is fantastic in itself. Jesus breathed in the same way that you and I do. He struggled in the same way that you and I do. He felt pain, loss, joy, elation, sorrow, excitement, the whole nine yards. He was also probably quite short, and not much to look at (check the gospels) and virtually everyone he ever spoke to misunderstood what he was doing, what he was about, and what the outcome of it all would be. He could have done anything he wanted to, but he loved humans so much, he let them make mistake after mistake after mistake in how they dealt with him, just so that they, and we, might have our own opportunity to see him as he really is, and respond to him. I don’t need to walk to be human. You don’t need to be a brainbox, or musical, or have people validate you by buying your CD, your book or anything else. We could all do with understanding the stupendous blessing and opportunity we have and pray that the whole world, not just those that look “broken” or “sick” might be healed, so that we can all enjoy it together.
Even as I finish this, I’m a bit nervous to post it. Some of you are Christians. A lot of you aren’t, and may think this is all a bit silly, or ill-advised, or downright dangerous. I’m also a bit nervous because my theology isn’t all neat and smooth-edged. I’m probably not exegeting correctly in parts. My hermeneutics are very suspicious, and I’m being entirely postmodern in a) thinking that anyone should give a monkeys (I nearly wrote something else there) about this, or b) that my opinion matters. But even so, this is honestly how I feel today, and I’m fed up of feeling like this.
As I’ve been writing and thinking about this, I’ve been really struck by a song from the new album from The Ember Days, Face in the Dark. The chorus says,
You healed the lepers when they called your name
You healed the broken
Will you heal me?
Now, Janell and Jason are acquaintances of mine. Their band is awesome, and I have a pretty good idea about the circumstances which led to this song, which give a huge amount of added poignancy to these words, which would otherwise seem pretty simple. Later, Janell sings
Take what’s broken
Heal the pain
Take my heart
Have your way
What’s broken in me? Is it my lack of ability to walk? I don’t think so (you might have guessed that by now).
So let’s do a deal ok? Next time you walk past me in the street, if you feel led to pray for me to be healed, think again. If you still feel the need to pray for me to be healed, be ready for me to do the same to you, and be aware that I’m asking for a lot more than just to be able to walk when I pray for my own healing, and for yours. New life, transformation of character, personality, behaviour, situation. Let’s go for that instead shall we. I think God’s a lot more bothered about that. He’s already raised the dead, so re-instating my dead brain cells probably isn’t that big a deal anyway. What He really wants is for both you and I to understand more of who he is, who we are, and the wonder of what life together, and with him looks like. You can’t do that while you’re walking away from me in the opposite direction.
Walking’s for losers anyway.