“I was locked out of my church!”
Christine Drummond from Peebles Baptist Church has written about the issue of disabled access and inclusion, having a friend who was unable to attend a joint service due to accessibility issues at the venue. Christine shares about the work of one Christian charity who provide advocacy and training on this important issue and how Peebles Baptist are considering improving accessibility for a wide range of people.
I had been thinking it was wonderful that all the local congregations had cancelled their morning services, to worship together in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. My friend’s very different view of that Sunday was a shock.
It just hadn’t occurred to me, or to any of the clergy organising the service, that the only church big enough to accommodate “everyone”, was absolutely inaccessible for a wheelchair user like Janette. Cancellation of her home church’s service meant she had been quite literally locked out – not so much by her disability, as by the steps leading up to the chosen venue – and our lack of foresight.
Janette belonged to another church, but often joined our meetings, and her friendship and her witness blessed our fellowship. Over the years, other people living with a range of mobility, sensory and mental health challenges have also enriched the life of our church family. The sorry incident of Janette’s exclusion strengthened our aspiration to be as barrier-free as possible. In the vision God has given us for a new church and community building on the south side of Peebles, accessibility has always been a key value.
But we’ve still got a huge amount to learn about removing obstacles that can prevent disabled brothers and sisters playing their full part in church life. We’re very grateful for the resources, breadth of experience and encouragement which Through the Roof makes available to churches, to help that learning. Their “Church Toolkit”, whilst acknowledging that every church and every person with a disability is unique, provides practical pointers for ministry teams – from audio visual and catering, right through to website content and worship leading. “Removing Barriers”, their church audit tool, is equally practical, providing a format for ongoing evaluation and improvement of accessibility. Additionally, their Church Inclusion Coordinators have responded promptly and helpfully when I’ve approached them with a specific query.
Jesus came to give “life to the full”; equality and inclusion have rock-solid Scriptural foundations. But even “enlightened self-interest” should make accessibility a no-brainer! Statistics show that most of us will experience temporary or permanent disability at some point in our lives. It’s scriptural and it makes sense, and Christian organisations like Through the Roof give us tools to do what we can, while we can, to ensure no one is locked out of our churches.