'It was up to us to find creative ways to tap into their potential'
Aslan is a ministry for those with additional needs at Tonbridge Baptist Church, and features a highly regarded website full of free Sunday School resources. Jackie Potter shares the story
Imagine what it might be like to be a child or young person who is part of a family who go to church regularly, whose needs mean that he or she is unable to engage in anything that is on offer. Imagine how the family is impacted when one parent has to stay at home to support that child while the others go and happily join in with a church service or peer group activity.
This was the challenge presented to us at Tonbridge Baptist Church
in 2013. We were aware that ‘J’, a 14-year old boy with autism, who had been supported 1:1 in the children’s Sunday School groups, was now at an age where there was nothing available for him that would suit his particular needs.
After much prayer and discussion, a decision was made to set up a separate group for children with special needs and our first session was on Easter Sunday 2013. Initially it was very small - just ‘J’, plus a few interested adults who were keen to support him.
As someone involved from the start, I soon began to imagine how this ministry could develop, and I was excited about the future. I knew, from many years of teaching in special education, that there was an expectation in school for anyone of any ability to be able to be engaged and learn – it was up to us to find creative ways to tap into their potential. I knew that God was challenging me to apply the same standard in church and to look to Him for inspiration and guidance.
As word got around, we soon had four boys in the group. By this time, we had settled on a familiar format which has continued to be our framework for each session. Each one has an allocated space at a table and we give time for individual choice before the group comes together for prayer, teaching, singing and snack. This is followed by differentiated activities related to the teaching, where we aim for 1:1 support.
As we became more established, it was clear that we needed a name. One day I sat down with a piece of paper and jotted down some of the words about us... special, loving, nurturing. Playing around with the letters, I soon had organised them into 'Aslan': A
pecial needs children L
urtured. The other leaders warmly approved of this and we asked ‘J’, who inspired the vision, to draw a picture of a lion head for our logo.
Our numbers soon grew to eight regulars with a wide range of ability, and I searched for material that would be engaging and meaningful for each one. This proved quite a challenge, resulting in me spending a considerable amount of time planning activities at four different levels each time we met. After a while, I began to think that I could share these resources online and it might encourage others to set up similar groups. I believe it was one of those God-planted thoughts!
My son Dan was Youth Team Leader at TBC at the time and had the necessary technical skills to set up a website
for me. Uploading the three-year curriculum was a long and sometimes laborious process, but we were able to launch it in April 2018 and I am hugely grateful to him for his contribution and support.
Aslan is offered three times a month and we have a rota of three teams. We are blessed with dedicated and gifted leaders and it is exciting to see how faith develops in the context of working 1:1 in this way. Earlier this year, one of the boys asked to be baptised and it was wonderful to celebrate this with the rest of the church family.
As a member of the Additional Need Alliance, I was immediately able to share the website with many like-minded and interested people. I have now also set up an Aslan Facebook group
to enable easy interaction with those using the material.
The Aslan website was recently awarded ‘Runner-Up’ in the Accessibility category at the Premier Digital Awards
, and it is wonderful that Premier Christian Radio have recognised the value of this ministry. For Aslan to win an award is a much appreciated endorsement and has provided a great platform for wider publicity.
There are plans to add ‘Aslan Adults’ as a new section to the website. We set up a monthly adult group earlier this year and the resources I’ve put together for those sessions will be freely available some time in 2020.