The Focus Service, a church for adults with learning disabilities, was founded in 2000 by Baptist minister David Middleton, who continues to lead it. Assistant minister, Keith Blinston of the Church Army, gives an update.
Focus was originally launched as an informal ecumenical project through the collaboration of a number of churches in south Sheffield. In April 2012, it became 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 as well as the Diocese of Sheffield.
Now, eight months on from the official signing, not much has changed in the way the church operates with regards to its services and fellowship group. However, we are being increasingly recognised and involved in the wider Church life. Representatives attend Deanery Synod meetings and the Baptist area meetings. We also have held our first partners' meeting. It has been so beneficial to talk through our concerns, frustrations and ideas with them and has led us to set ourselves a number of goals to achieve.
After the signing of the BMO we had a church meal to celebrate the end of many years of negotiations; this was the first time we had done this together on such a scale. We invited all our members and their carers or parents and had a wonderful time. It was so good in fact that we are going to make it a regular part of our church life.
As part of the leadership of the church, we have two members who are learning disabled. They provide valuable insight when we are planning services and also remind the rest of us about the importance of praying. This is encouraging as one of the habits we try to encourage at our fellowship meetings is that of prayer. To see how these two (and others) have grown in confidence to pray over the years has been a joy and privilege to be part of.
These past months have seen us grow numerically with two new people coming along. We are also finding that people with similar interests are contacting us to come and see what we do and find out what they can learn from us.
Focus uses the Anglican Church of St Paul's, Norton Lees, as its regular venue. However we are a deanery-wide network church that attracts members from across Sheffield. Meetings are fortnightly on Sundays at 7pm and there is also a Focus Fellowship Group meeting every Monday evening.