Symbols, Signs, Worship and Mr Tumble

It seems hard to believe that our son Joe had his 5th birthday in February 2012.

So much has happened since the nurse first picked up on an ante-natal scan that there could be something that needed further investigation. After a whirlwind week of hastily arranged appointments with consultants at Addenbrookes and Great Ormond Street Hospital it was confirmed that the unborn baby almost certainly had Downs Syndrome.

He would be born premature; would definitely need bowel surgery within a day of being born; would need heart surgery at about 5 months; and might or might not need a range of other interventions and support throughout his life.

Five years later and Joe has brought smiles to so many people and opened doors to many new friendships and shared journeys of joy and pain.

We were encouraged early in Joe's life to use Makaton signs alongside speech to help with communication.

These are the same signs used by Mr Tumble in the popular CBeebies programme, Something Special and are based on British Sign Language. Justin Fletcher (aka Mr Tumble) has helped make Makaton signs popular with children of all backgrounds.

The signs are increasingly used in main-stream education in pre-schools and primary schools. We have started to use some signing in our church services and in schools work, thanks in part to the Prospects and Makaton Charities for their excellent training days for people wanting to use Makaton signs and symbols in Christian worship.

We're also committed to producing 12 signed YouTube videos in 2012 as part of the Big Bible Verse Challenge (or search YouTube for verse bsl big bible verse challenge).

There have been times when this is all hard work and we've wondered whether it is worth the effort. But then we realise that Joe loves signing, and has learned all the Bible verses songs that we've produced so far, and is engaged when we use them in church.

In fact, he has led the whole congregation in singing and signing the verses – which is more than many in the congregation could do!

Whilst some in the congregation find that trying to use their hands to sign is just too complicated, others have found it a helpful and meaningful way to express themselves more fully in worship.

We want to find ways to enable people of different backgrounds and abilities to engage in worship and to appreciate the diversity in the Christian family that makes up the church, Christ's body.

From our experience so far, we believe that signing is a powerful tool towards achieving this aim.

At Easter, Christians have 2 powerful signs in the cross and the empty tomb, of the death and incredible resurrection of Jesus.

They help us understand something of God's amazing love and power. They 'speak' to us of someone who unfairly experienced suffering, humiliation and rejection but who was not defeated by it. They give us hope and strength for today and for the future.

Steve and Kate Gaze

Co–Ministers, Hardwick Evangelical Church


the disability charity that connects people to their communities (formerly Prospects) Click here


To find out more about Makaton Click here