About ten years ago, I flew to a large city in the Deep South late one Saturday evening. The next morning, I got up and drove to a building where the Lord’s church meets. After walking in the rather large building, I found a place to sit, but I had chosen the wrong place. A lady came up and said to me, “Young man, that’s where my son and I sit – I need you to move over.” I had heard people josh back and forth about “their” pew, but I had never met someone so bold as to claim her territory in a church building.
I’ve thought about that rude encounter several times over the past decade. If I had not been a member of the church, I would have left right then and there and never darkened the door of that church building again (well, I haven’t darkened the door of that church building again). I still have trouble believing that encounter really happened – how could someone be so rude to a guest at worship? Church is to be a welcoming community, a community which welcomes people regardless of sin or skin color or socio-economic status or past life. Jesus’ blood, you see, cleanses of sin, makes us one body, and makes all things new.
I’ve never attended a congregation in any place or at any time which was not welcoming toward people with disabilities. In fact, the most beloved members of just about every congregation are elderly saints who need a little more care than other members. But, how can churches even do a more effective job of caring for the disabled? Let me offer some suggestions:
- Provide ample parking near the door. Without stopping to think some able-bodied people park near the door of the church building and take parking places away from others who really need them. Make sure that those who need close parking places can find them.
- Make sure the door is easily accessible. Easy access is absolutely essential if the church building is to be a welcoming place for worship. I cannot climb steps. When I attend worship, I need a building with a door level with the parking lot or a ramp or elevator.
- Hang appropriate signage. Let people know where the ramp or elevator is. Don’t allow people to struggle entering the building only to discover there was a much easier, but unmarked, way.
- Secure any doormats. I’ve seen people trip over door mats as they enter the church building. I don’t want any broken bones, but, at my age, I stand a far better chance of an excellent recovery than someone who is much older.
- Watch the children. I’ve had children bump into me as they ran in the foyer. Most days I’m steady enough to withstand a fall, but on other days I’m nervous about being bumped. Elderly members certainly don’t need a child bumping into them.
- Help people in and out. In the rain or the wind or the snow, some members are going to need a little bit of help getting in and out of the building. Larger churches may want to have deacons and others stationed at the door to offer such assistance and smaller churches may just need a friendly face or two willing to serve in any way that’s needed.
- Provide visual and hearing assistance. Many disabled members are going to have trouble hearing and/or seeing. What better way of saying that they belong than helping them hear and see? Large print Bibles and song books and using PowerPoint could help the visually impaired worship. Hearing systems, PowerPoint, and making the preacher’s outline available could help the hearing impaired.
I’ve given you some ideas to help make worship an inviting atmosphere for those suffering with physical disabilities. I’m less interested in giving you concrete things you can do, however, than I am helping you foster an attitude of service. When we look at the world through the lens of humble service, we’ll seize every opportunity we find to do right and serve others. Will you serve others as you walk with Jesus? I know that if you walk with Him He will walk with you as He has walked with me in the past.