A CHURCH group designed to make worship more open to people with learning disabilities has called for people to help it expand after it celebrated its fifth birthday.

Those behind JOY Place, based at St Andrew’s Church, Botley, believe the organisation is the first of its kind in Oxford.

Co-founders Anita Saunders and husband Chuck, 63, originally missionaries from California, came to the UK 12 years ago to help set up a church in Botley.

The JOY Place was conceived when Christian charity Prospects put them into contact with Matt Long, 37, and wife Jenny, 34, who live in north Abingdon with their two young children.

Our top stories

Mr Long, who works in sales, said: “An arm of Prospects supports local churches in organising groups to make the service more accessible. My wife has worked with adults with learning disabilities in the past – her experience was that the church for them was not a very welcome place. Quite often adults with learning disabilities can want to shout out, or communicate non-verbally. Some people not used to it can be scared or put off, or try to get them to stay quiet.

“We felt we were being called to set something up in Oxford. There was definitely a need. When we were put in touch with Chuck and Anita, it snowballed from there.”


Jonathan Langford who attends their church group sessions

Since being founded, the number of attendees shot from two or three to around 50, and it is now rare not to see new faces each month.

Interactivity, singing, crafts, and prayer take centre stage. Rev Sarah Northall of St Mary’s Iffley routinely helps with simplified bible lessons.

The group celebrated its fifith birthday with a performance from the Oxford University Brass Band.

JOY Place member, Jonathan Langford, 24, of Headington, said he looked forward to the sessions, held on the first Sunday of every month.

The 24-year-old added: “I feel more confident now. They do prayers, stories and all types of things. I really like the singing. The brass band in December was fantastic.”

Mrs Saunders, 66, of Botley, said: “We make it feel like it is their church. Many of them call it the Joy Church. One lady has Down’s Syndrome and very little language skills. The first time she came, she clung to her carer and would not make eye contact. Now, when we ask for volunteers to come up and sing a special The JOY Place solo, she always comes to the front. We call it her solo now.”

For more information on The JOY Place visit joyplace.org.uk

  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone’s contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.