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What Does It Mean To Be Accessible?

by Ross WB Putnam

The United Church of Christ acknowledges the need people have to be included — especially those with physical and mental disabilities. Helping church settings become “Accessible to All” (“A2A”) is a major objective of the Southern California/Nevada Conference Inclusion Team.

Working with the Inclusion Team I’ve become ever more convinced this is important work for the whole church to address. The following are my thoughts, generated to start a conversation. I would enjoy being in touch with others who have questions or ideas.

Meeting that objective can be a challenge. Building ramps, installing lifts or elevators, electric door openers for outside and inside doors, cutting sections of pews out so people dependent on wheel chairs, canes and walkers have choices as to where they can sit in the sanctuary can seem a luxury to congregations with limited reserves which must be applied in cost-effective ways.

As important as they are, these sorts of issues barely scratch the surface of the issue. Accessible to All means more than accommodating the physically disabled for an hour of worship on Sunday morning, or in meetings or other gatherings.

Other aspects of A2A include being accessible to people who live with all sorts of physical limitations, with considerations to those with either hearing or seeing limitations and also mental, emotional, situational and cultural.

Can the affirmations we regularly share with each other on Sunday mornings and at various church functions be available to a registered sex offender? Has your church dealt with the homeless, or the person who steals things? How can we say “The peace of Christ be with you” to the family without a home or who cannot attend church because the jobs available to them force them to work the night shift and sleep during the day? Then there are the addicted, abused or those threatened with deportation. A2A does not specifically address those who are homeless, incarcerated, etc., though many are physically and mentally disabled. Cross sections do exist and need to be addressed. If a church is authentic about full inclusion, it will benefit (and include) all.

Focusing first on getting a piano refurbished, installing solar panels, sponsoring a block party or having a jazz Sunday sounds more doable, but does it welcome the stranger and make them feel affirmed?

The mandate from Jesus “that they may all be one” (John 17:3), the motto of the United Church of Christ, is no accident. We just need to live into it. It means that in our diversity, mélange, various interests, skin colors, impediments, skills, challenges, hopes and dreams. We are always called to stretch our resources and ourselves to examine our values and to whom and how we show our love.

What has your church done or is planning to do to open the welcome for all in the future?

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