Friday, June 12, 2015

Welcome Unexpected

Photo Description: Central United Church in Barrie, surrounded with snow and announcing a pancake breakfast on sign in front of the church.
Yesterday I gave a lecture at the Central United Church in Barrie. I've spoken in many churches before, not at the services but at lectures booked in the sanctuaries. As a small boy I really wanted to be a United Church minister, so it was cool to be asked to do the lecture there. For those from outside Canada, the United Church is a very progressive church, I believe it's still the largest denomination in Canada, and it's welcoming of lgbt people both in the congregation and behind the pulpit. Anyways, I'd been told that the church was accessible, and it was, unexpectedly.

As I said, I've spoken in a lot of churches and attended a lot of churches over the years. For the longest while Joe and I, when in another city on a Sunday, would attend church in that city. We've been in beautiful spaces, taking the time to be quiet and to listen. It's a nice way to spend time when away in another city. As we've got older, though, that's trailed off. Sleeping in became much more attractive and option.


As I said, we've been to a lot of churches.

Accessibility became an issue immediately upon becoming a wheelchair user. Finding a church that one could get it was a challenge. And, there were some interesting conversations about it. Once, at lunch with some folks attending a conference I was presenting at, I spoke to a woman who professed to be a Christian, about the difficulty of finding a church in our area that we could get into, the all had stairs. She looked at me and said, "You know why they have stairs, don't you?" I was startled by the question but said, "I'm guessing it's because they were built in a time when accessibility wasn't even considered as a need or an option." She said, "No, it's because if you were really a Christian you would get out of your wheelchair and walk up those stairs."



But it was very different yesterday. I was able to easily get in the church and then I rolled into the sanctuary. I saw it but it took a second or two to sink in. The pulpit was ramped. A long, beautiful, wooden ramp, with hand rails on either side, spaced perfectly for me to pull myself up. The floor of the church was carpeted, not with thick pile, but with pile that was easy to roll on, but there was no carpet on the ramp. May I say, Hallelujah!! Can I have an Amen! I was easily able to get up onto the platform and give my lecture from where a sermon would be given.

Most churches that are accessible, in my meagre experience, don't consider the possibility that someone with a disability would ever need access to the pulpit or the choir loft. Ever.

It was amazing.

Heavenly even.

Buildings can community welcome or exclusion.

Yesterday, I was full and warmly welcomed.


Glee said...

Yep. Heavenly! :)

Kit said...

It was wonderful to hear you speak and tell your stories yesterday. I am glad the church was a welcoming place for you.

Louise said...

Great! My local Anglican church is also fully accessible throughout, including altar and lectern (from where sermons are given). And choir loft - there's a lift. Accessible toilets in the main church and also downstairs in the coffee area in the crypt (another lift).

wheeliecrone said...

Hallelujah! Amen.

Kristine said...

Every church I ever go into, I check the podium and choir seats, to see if they're as accessible as they might think they are. It's still super rare, and warms my heart when I see a church where I'm clearly invited to participate fully.

A few months ago I was thinking about joining a choir group that wasn't affiliated with a church, but practiced/performed in several. I emailed the director and asked if the facilities were wheelchair accessible. She sent me back the most thorough response, full of details about entrances, elevators, ramps, door buttons, parking spaces, etc for each of the spaces they use, phone numbers of people who could answer any other questions I might have, and an offer to meet me at any of the locations if I wanted to check them out ahead of time. I was sold! No more questions, I knew this choir was going to be the place for me. :) I showed up to the church we mostly practice in, and was welcomed by the accessibility symbol and a rainbow sign, clearly posting out front that all are welcome. The inside of the building, and the attitude of the people, confirmed that welcome. :)

David said...

So pleased you had a good faith community experience. In my observation, the buildings are becoming more accessible and, with some hard work, important conversation and prayer, our theology and practice may become more accessible as well.