The atmosphere at Jesus Club Tamworth was relaxed and friendly as members walked in and, after some chatter, sat down for their opening game, the 'Name Game.' Tonight, the question was, "What's your favourite animal, and why?"
The game always worked a treat to spark conversations and helped the group get to know each other. Though for some, these meetings felt less like an introduction than a reunion of another group, Crossroads, which they used to go to together.
However, Margaret Webster, the coordinator of Jesus Club Tamworth, saw it a more like a baton-passing moment. They were picking up and carrying on the ministry of sharing the Bible to adults with intellectual disabilities (I.D.) - it felt like the same joy all over again!
Margaret was a bit of a reluctant starter at Crossroads, the disability ministry her husband was involved in for many years. The group had a long history in Tamworth working with people with disabilities and was first started in the 60s in the Newcastle area.
The group was run by a committee of volunteers from local churches who took turns making up and running the program on a monthly roster.
But over the years, churches began dropping out of the committee until only a handful of volunteers remained. Of those who did, most were elderly and some in their 80s, so after three or four years of struggling alone, they too lost their resolve to continue.
Finally, in December 2021, the group decided to close for good. The combination of a lack of leadership from a dwindling committee and little program support from Crossroads led to the closure of Crossroads Tamworth.
Despite its inevitability, it was a devastating day for Margaret. She had grown to love and care for the members. 'Where would they go now Crossroads had closed?' 'Where would they get their Christian influence?'
"She couldn't start something on her own… Or could she?"
So, Margaret invited a couple of members to join her church, while a few others went to neighbouring churches in the area. However, many left without first being connected to a church community, which made Margaret incredibly sad. But there was nothing she could do. She couldn't start something on her own… Or could she?
For months things remained unchanged until, in March 2022, Margaret's minister at Oxley Vale Anglican Church, Simon Carter, passed her information about a Christian ministry for people with disabilities called Jesus Club. And the more they looked at it, the more they were convinced it would make a great replacement.
Impressed with the Jesus Club Orientation Training for new clubs, which Margaret found comprehensive, the leaders did their training over four or five sessions, watching videos and reading corresponding sections from the Jesus Club Handbook. It helped their volunteers to come in "a little bit more prepared," said Margaret.
But the biggest plus was Jesus Club's extensive biblical-teaching support. Margaret thought it marvellous that Jesus Club offered them so much help!
"I like the fact they provide the material… that there are a number of programs written already, that include suggestions for songs, craft, and worksheets. We didn't have to keep reinventing the wheel… It just makes running [a disability ministry] so much easier!" said Margaret.
Jesus Club members at their first meeting.
And judging from their members' reaction at the first few meetings, they too were loving the Jesus Club program.
"The members just love it!" said Margaret. They enjoy the mix of movement, drama, and visual presentation of the Bible, which Margaret dramatizes with an exciting word presentation or dressing up for fun.
And not only are members having fun, but they are also eagerly taking the biblical-teaching onboard. With many already familiar with Bible stories, they are more than happy to keep learning about Jesus - who He is and what He means to them.
Margaret shared about one girl who was very aware of Jesus and often felt His presence, while another had told her, "I know Jesus, and I love Jesus."
"The members just love it!" said Margaret. They enjoy the mix of movement, drama, and visual presentation of the Bible
Since May, seven members have regularly joined Jesus Club Tamworth in their monthly meetings. But they had as many as 13 one evening when a Community Living Home Margaret contacted pulled up with a bus full of old Crossroads’ members:
"I contacted the supervisor for those particular homes. And they turned up with six people on that night. It was lovely!" said Margaret. "Those people hadn't been able to go [to Crossroads] for a couple of years because they had no transport," explained Margaret.
Naturally, next on Margaret's to-do list is reconnecting with other old members and growing Jesus Club Tamworth. "We've got to the stage that we're established with those [first members] and we can start looking a bit further," said Margaret.
So, look out if you used to go to Crossroads or if you're a disability organization in the area because you might soon get a phone call or brochure from Margaret inviting you to their new Jesus Club!
CROSSROADS had left behind an incredible legacy at Tamworth. The goodwill they fostered paved the way for current churches to openly reach out to adults with I.D. And with the help of Jesus Club's comprehensive training and resource support, churches can now easily set up disability-inclusive ministries that share God's good news to members in a way they love and can understand.
Jesus Club's mission is to make Christ known to more adults with intellectual disabilities so they can have a friendship with God forever. Since 2006, they have helped over 20 churches grounded in the gospel to set up disability-inclusive ministries for their local communities.
Ways You Can Get Involved:
● Find out how to start your own Jesus Club on Start a Club page.
● Give a monthly gift to support our ministry.
● Sign up for our monthly newsletter for the latest Jesus Club news.