WAVE is extraordinary – and as far as I know, unique. At least in London. And I should underline that as the new pastor of this church I take absolutely no credit for what I’m about to tell you.
WAVE stands for We’re All Valued Equally, and it’s an unusual church. It meets monthly, and it is designed for adults with a learning difficulty, some of whom come on their own, many with their carers, and a few with their parents. The songs they sing are simple and repetitive, the talks are short, clear and imaginative, there’s heaps of unpredictability and laughter (and tears). But for all its simplicity, WAVE is not childish.. The Bible they use is a very simple translation – but it’s not a children’s Bible. The concepts are important and profound. These are adults.
Last Sunday WAVE took over our main services. We didn’t have an announcement about it or a poster at the back: we kicked off the normal service with a welcome, and then we had service within a service. Forty five minutes of WAVE, with songs being signed in Makaton, and pictures explaining what we were doing and what was coming up. And then we re-entered ‘normal church’ for a closing hymn and prayer.
What was different?. Well, when we came into church we were all given a small paper bag, a piece of card, and given a small coloured sticker to wear. The talk was going to be about how other people see us, and how God looks on the heart. So, as an activity, during the service we all wrote or drew on the outside of the bag how other people saw us (happy, positive), and how we were on the inside (shy, grieving). And although the activity sounds like an All-Age activity, when some of those bags were later read out anonymously, it was a massive window into the hearts of adult Christians in our church. This was not a children’s talk.
And the stickers? Well, one colour represented persecuted Christians, and those people stood while we prayed for them. Another, the homeless. A third, the sick – and in one part of church that meant someone with cancer stood to pray for sick members of the church. Simple and visual? Yes. Childish? I don’t think so.
We were able to recognise that some of our members are adults with learning difficulties – some quite severe. We were able to affirm their genuine faith in Christ, and their part in the Body of Christ. That’s powerful.
So I can see a way to reclaim the language about ‘inclusiveness’, ‘diversity’, ‘acceptance’, and to use such words with full biblical content, rather than suspect them because of their codedness for other agendas. Inclusiveness is a gospel value, and we must find a way to use it with meaning in our evangelical churches.
It also forced me to reflect on the truth that the intellectual gap between me and an adult with learning difficulties is nothing compared to the gap between me and God’s infinite wisdom. Which means that if he is able to condescend so much that I can understand him, he can go that tiny bit further for the WAVE adults And so should I, therefore.
These are early days. I couldn’t handle a WAVE service every week if it was to be my normal diet. This is church for outliers. But by the same token, they couldn’t cope with church as we do it every week, and it made me question, once again, just how many hurdles of IQ we pile onto discipleship.
I suspect this kind of church will be one for larger churches to contemplate doing on their own, because there needs to be a critical mass for it to start. But maybe it’s something that half a dozen smaller churches could consider working on. Although once it becomes shared between churches there will be a constant battle for it to move into something other than gospel focussed discipleship.
If you want to find out more, the webpage is here.
Next blog post will be about Challenge – the partner ministry for parents with young children with a learning disability.