Focus, a church for adults with learning disabilities, began in 2000 as an informal ecumenical project through the collaboration of a number of churches in south Sheffield. In April 2012, it became the first BMO in the Diocese of Sheffield and the first ecumenical BMO in the Church of England.
The Diocese of Sheffield reports,
The Bishop's Mission Order is important for Focus as it seeks to develop a more stable foundation and ensure that the wisdom of the wider church is on hand to help secure this church for the longer-term. It also sends an important message that Focus is not merely an outreach project or an occasional service but a church in its own right.
While integration of adults with learning disabilities into existing churches can sometimes work well, the profound nature of Focus' members' disabilities means that any existing church welcoming them would have to radically change the way they do church in order to engage effectively with them. To avoid a 'veneer of acceptance' or a 'tendency to tokenism' that can sometimes occur in existing churches, Focus have chosen to model equal valuing of this much-undervalued and under-resourced marginalised group within our society by developing a church where learning disability is normal and members can have some say in how their church is run.
Through the BMO the Bishop of Sheffield recognises Focus as a new member of the Anglican family in the Diocese of Sheffield, finding ways to connect across churches for mutual benefit will be key. This BMO is especially noteworthy as it is the first ecumenical BMO in the Church of England, recognising the fact that Focus is supported and recognised by the Yorkshire Baptist Association and Meadowhead Christian Fellowship in addition to the Anglican Diocese of Sheffield. Representatives of all three organisations signed the BMO.
Focus currently uses the Anglican church of St Paul's Norton Lees as their regular venue but they are a deanery-wide network church and attract members from all over Sheffield. They meet fortnightly on Sundays at 7pm and there is also a Focus Group Fellowship meeting every Monday evening.
Baptist minister David Middleton is Focus' founder and leader. Captain Keith Blinston, an Anglican Church Army Officer, is Focus' assistant leader.