Actress and comedian Sally Phillips wiped away a tear as she heard an 82-strong choir from the Notre Dame School, Cobham, sing and sign to accompany blind pianist Marilyn Baker singing “open my eyes” – a song she had written.
Sally – who appeared in the Bridget Jones films, and alongside the BBC series Miranda, and who has a son, Olly, with Down’s Syndrome – called on the crowd gathered for the opening of the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey, to encourage their churches to be places where those with a disability would be welcomed to play a useful role in church life.
“Interdependence is what we are after – independence is not all it is cracked up to be,” she said. “In Society there is no right to life if you have a disability- the Church has got to be the place where everyone is equal,” she added.
Following an introductory talk written by 12-year-old Jonathan Bryan, who has quadruple cerebal palsy and is unable to speak, read by his mother Chantal, Sally pointed out “Jonathon and my son Olly understand God in a way that I cannot.”
The opening ceremony was marked by the inclusion of so many with disabilities. Marilyn Baker was blind almost from birth, and despite being unable to speak Jonathon has written a best-selling autobiography “Eye can Write” with a forward by popular author Sir Michael Morpurgo.
In his speech he pointed out that the Church needed to reflect the fact that
“God’s heart is for those on the margins of society. Part of this is addressed in making our buildings accessible – wheelchair ramps so we can get in, hearing loops so we can hear, accessible content so we can follow the service – but true inclusion enables us to contribute as well as revive. True inclusion values us as part of the body of Christ.”
CRE organiser, Steve Goddard, said:
“This was a wonderful start to a three-day exhibition which is aimed at expanding the horizons for local churches. I was delighted that the opening ceremony highlighted the role that the so-called handicapped can play in church life. The Church is doing a lot to help – but more is needed.”
The show has 210 exhibitors from sound systems to stained glass specialists, chair manufacturers to church textile designers and more than 50 seminars covering everything from transforming community engagement to communicating to young people in a digital age.