Kairos initiative to support spiritual needs of people with intellectual disabilities

The Kairos Forum is a new practical initiative that has emerged from research carried out at the University of Aberdeen into the spiritual needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

The Forum is directed by Cristina Gangemi and John Swinton at the University of Aberdeen, and is aimed at providing specialist advice and resources for people with intellectual disabilities, families, carers and support workers. 

The Forum, to be launched at an event at Charterhouse in London on April 19, will provide consultancy, educational materials, information on topics such as equality, advocacy, and community building, aimed at supporting individuals, their families, and those who work to support them.

The focus of the Forum is specifically on spirituality, religious practice and the message that ‘everyone belongs’, within communities both religious and secular.

Funded  by an independent charitable trust with no public funding, the Forum will provide support in very practical ways through expertise, practical resources and consultancy, including;

  • Facilitating a support network for those living with and working in this field, including online discussion forums
  • Developing resources to assist individuals, families and professionals to meet the expressed needs of people with such disabilities.
  • Providing a consultancy service – through a team of experts - to help implement person-centred spiritual care, support and accompaniment for  disabled people
  • Working with schools to enable teachers and pupils to explore and gain insight into disability issues.
  • Developing and producing educational programmes and materials for lay people and professionals (for example those working in the NHS and local authorities), for carers, and for people who themselves have a disability.

The launch of the Forum puts into practice the findings of research by Cristina Gangemi and John Swinton, Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen.

Cristina Gangemi is the former disability advisor to the Archdioceses of Southwark, is a practical theologian who has worked as a national adviser to Catholic and ecumenical groups and has a long history in working alongside people with intellectual disabilities in the area of spirituality and religious practice.

Professor Swinton is also Director of the University’s Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability. With a background in mental health nursing before entering academia, Professor Swinton’s book Spirituality and Mental Health Care: rediscovering a forgotten dimension (2001) led the way in exploring the impact of spirituality on the practice of mental health care.

Describing the mission of Kairos, John Swinton said: “Spirituality is a broad concept. For some people it relates to religion, but for others it is much broader including things such as meaning purpose, hope and love. The Kairos Forum is not a specifically religious organisation. It seeks to meet people’s religious and spiritual needs.

“It’s not complicated really. Life without meaning and without people who will help us to find meaning is not what any of us want. If we can begin to look at one another as full human beings who realise that we need one another, then society will be a better place. The Forum is one place where we can begin to build communities within which each of us can truly belong. Whether you are religious or not, spirituality can be the beginning of belonging.”

Cristina Gangemi added: “The Kairos is a practical Forum. We really want to help people to put their intuitive ideas about the importance of spirituality into practice. It often looks as if society has forgotten what it means to live in community. This can be particularly difficult for people whom society perceives as different. The Kairos Forum aims to enable all of us to live well together and to meet one another properly. By focusing on the spiritual, broadly defined, we can begin to understand what it might mean to be a whole human being and to live lives that are marked by friendship and togetherness.”

The Kairos Forum is already contributing to several international and national organisations and bodies.