When your church doesn't 'get' adoption and fostering

What happens when your church doesn't seem to understand either your heart for fostering or adoption, or the challenges faced by your family?

As Christian adopters and foster carers, our churches should be a main source of support. When we navigate the challenges presented by our children's early life stories, we need our churches to be safe, supportive spaces for our families.

There are so many churches that are brilliant at this, welcoming looked after children and their families with an open and compassionate heart. If you're reading this as a leader or member of a fostering-and-adoption-friendly church, please know how grateful we are to you for this.

But what happens when your church doesn't seem to understand either your heart for fostering or adoption, or the challenges faced by your family? Do you go into 'fight' mode, taking every opportunity to impress upon your church leader what you feel they're ignoring? Or 'flight' mode, where you simply leave that church and find another one, daunted by the prospect of confrontation?

As an adopter, I understand the frustrations of those whose churches don't appear to 'get it'. Married to a church leader, I also understand the frustrations of leading a diverse group of people with different passions. Let's take a look at how we might work with our churches to educate them about caring for vulnerable children.

First of all, who are the people you need to be fully on board with your heart? I'd like to suggest that there are three groups of people who are key to whether your church is fostering-and-adoption-friendly or not:

* your church leadership team - because they steer the vision and welcome of the church

* your children's or youth work team - because they will be working directly with your child/ren

* your small group - because they will be your support as you parent your children

Taking each of these in turn, try to figure out where you're feeling challenged. It may be quite encouraging, for example, to realise that even though your church leader hasn't responded to your emails, your small group are hugely supportive of you, both in prayer and practical ways. Or that even though you've found it difficult to attend your small group recently, your children's team are fully on board with becoming trauma-informed.

This exercise also allows us to extend grace to those who perhaps have not been as responsive as we'd have liked, by realising the many pressures on them in their different roles.

Church leaders have pastoral responsibility for a large and varied group of people, and you can guarantee that each person in their congregations will have their own 'agenda': their own personal passion that God has placed on their heart.

Sometimes it may feel as if they're not supportive of you and the heart God's given you for adoption or fostering, when in reality they are simply trying to balance the needs, passions and gifts of the whole church.

You can help them out by asking to meet directly with them. If you're part of a larger church, it may be someone else on the leadership team who is able to meet with you, but either way, you should be able to make an appointment.

A good church leader will want you to talk to them, or a member of their team, about your calling. He/she might not celebrate Adoption Sunday, or become a Home for Good church, and whilst we would say these are fantastic things for churches to be aiming for, their absence does not have to mean that your family should feel unwelcome or misunderstood.

Fix a time when you won't be disturbed. I know this is difficult with young children, but it's important to try. You don't need special words or an agenda - just go prepared to share the story of your journey, plus anything it might be helpful for him/her to know.

There are plenty of Home for Good resources for church leaders - you could give your leader a copy of 10 ways you can support foster and adoptive families or What the Church needs to know about invisible needs. Printing it out might yield more success than an emailed link, which they may not have had time to read.

Children's leaders have an important role in understanding all the varied needs that the children in their groups are struggling with. It is their job to ensure each child can access the group sessions, working with parents to nurture their children's faith.

Again, arranging a meeting with your children's leader will pay dividends, as you can pass on all the helpful strategies that you've developed in the home, as well as information about your child's specific needs.

You may think that meeting with the leaders is a bit over-the-top, but remember there's potentially a lot of information that would be helpful for them to know. One way or another, you're going to need to pass this on. Doing it largely in one sitting, when notes can be taken and questions asked, is far better than sharing it in snippets after each service, when the children's leaders are busy tidying up and less able to absorb details.

Did you know that Home for Good also runs training sessions specifically for church children's and youth leaders? Maybe your children's team would be interested in attending, or even hosting, a training event.

Small groups (or house groups, cell groups, life groups etc.) can be a wonderful source of support for you as you deal with the challenges arising from adoption or fostering. They should be praying for you, asking how it's going, and offering practical support when needed.

Do make sure you are asking for prayer in group prayer times. If your group has a way to communicate during the week, utilise this too, helping others to understand more about your family.

Besides prayer requests, remember to share any answers to prayer, as this will really encourage your group, and help strengthen their faith, as they realise how God is looking after the children He called you to adopt/foster.

It's always hard asking for help, but don't be shy to mention your practical needs to your group. Remember that our faith often grows as we serve others, so by not asking, you're depriving your group of important opportunities to be blessed in their relationship with Jesus!

If your small group doesn't appear very knowledgeable about or interested in your family situation, ask your leader whether you can share a bit more in one session - perhaps in an extended prayer time. Explain the challenges, and that you're grateful for their support. Point them to wider resources that will help, maybe sending them links to articles. (Your small group, as friends who have regular contact with you, are more likely to find time to read things you send them!)

As early as possible

If you haven't yet adopted or fostered, I would recommend having these conversations with your church leaders, children's/youth leaders and small group as soon as you start sharing the news publicly. Don't expect others to be automatically trauma-informed, but be willing to talk, listen and educate.

I've already mentioned Home for Good articles as a great way of starting a conversation with others. Some people also find it helpful to start their own blogs as a way of communicating their adoption/fostering journey to their church communities, family and friends.

Two-way benefit

There is an obvious advantage to your family of being part of a fostering-and- adoption-friendly church. But there is also an advantage to the church of having you there, with your passion to follow God's heart, and your willingness to chat to people about your journey.

If you have tried all of the above, and your church is still unresponsive, it may - sadly - be time to find a church that is more open to adoption and fostering.

But in most cases, staying in the church you're at and gently educating people should start to change attitudes over time. It might not be immediate, but what joy to be able to look back at this moment in a few years' time, and to see how God has used you to change His church!

Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft.

Author:
Lucy Rycroft for Home for Good


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