You Belong Here (Ros' Blog)
This week’s guest blog post is written by Natasha Bunney. Natasha is a final year student at De Montfort University in Leicester, reading Education with French, and writing her dissertation on attitudes to disability in the classroom. She has worked and volunteered with disabled people for 10 years and has a sister with complex multiple disabilities.
Last week I was invited to observe a theatre performance of the multi-sensory show Meadow Land by Bamboozle Theatre. Bamboozle is a company that puts on performances based on the principles of drama therapy and intensive interaction for children who are typically either autistic or labelled as having PMLD (profound and multiple learning disabilities). They work in schools as well as theatres to put on immersive performances for around 5 children at a time - the reason for this low number is so that they can get to know each child and involve them in the performance.
Before the show, performers meet and introduce themselves to every child, a relationship that continues to be built on throughout the performance. The show’s opening song welcomes all the children by name, and sets the context for both its narrative and ethos. Its lyrics explain that the children are welcome to participate however they would like, including doing nothing - a message that they are acceptable as they are, and their response to the show is valid no matter what. The show continues with each child being given the opportunity for one-to-one interaction with the various animal props and sensory experiences, but my favourite part of the show was its closing song.
The story goes that in the meadow it is beginning to rain, so all the children and performers have to go inside a tent. Once the tent has been put up around them, the performers sing a song called 'You Belong Here', in which they again name every child and tell them that they, both individually and collectively, belong there. What an empowering statement for a group of people who are often marginalised because of their differences.
I wonder if we as individuals and churches could learn something from Bamboozle. After all, God knows each person by name and cares about them deeply - why shouldn’t we? If the gospel, and church, are for everyone, what stops us from saying with our words and actions, “you belong here”? How can we value each person’s interaction with church and expression of their faith, regardless of whether it fits our expectations? And how can we see the possibility, rather than the disability, in our churches and communities?
(Pictures reproduced with kind permission from Bamboozle Theatre Company. Photographed by Martin Neeves Photography Ltd).