24 July 2007

"Inclusive" is about more than human sexuality

In all the debates, one might be tempted to lose sight of the goals we're working toward when we talk about an "inclusive church." It means more than ensuring a welcome for people of various sexual orientations. It means ensuring that the Gospel invitation is issued to all, and that all are welcomed into God's church.

Aside from theological inclusion, we need to look at the physical aspect of our churches. Can everyone physically enter your building? Here's a good reminder, courtesy of the Episcopal News Service.

[Canon Victoria] Garvey told ENS that when one considers the signs that point people to Episcopal Church congregations -- the ones that say "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" -- calling for the church to be accessible to all is a "no-brainer." The accessibility is possible in some parts of the church, Garvey said, but it must become the norm "all across the board."

That includes paying attention to what might be called unseen disabilities, she said. For example, someone with a heart condition may appear to be otherwise able but may not be able to climb stairs. Hearing difficulties, which are often not discernable by others, can prevent many people from truly participating in liturgies or program, she added, giving another example.

If part of the reason for the slow progress towards accessibility has to do with consciousness-raising, Garvey acknowledged that cost and the snowballing effect of making changes have been very important also. Given the way the ADA and other building codes work, if a congregation begins to improve its accessibility, it is usually expected to become completely accessible. "You do one thing and then you have to do 16," Garvey said.

"It's complicated," she acknowledged. However, "if we really believe what we say we believe, then we really have to think about our priorities in the coming year and our budget," she said of congregations who are trying to deal with the accessibility challenge.

Look around your building. Or better yet, if you are able to walk, sit in a wheelchair and try to enter your own church. What's that like? The parish I serve is just beginning to grapple with these issues once again. It's expensive and difficult, but if we mean what we say, the effort is an important part of our Christian faith.


Huw said...

Very good point! Our church building in SF was built in the mid90s (St Gregory of Nyssa Church) and the local regulations were/are very strict. There was no place in the Church that a person in a wheel chair could not get to - including the processional spaces around the building, the altar and the preaching space. When I first began attending SGN, one member was confined to a horizontal chair! She was able to participate as fully as she was able.

As a result the church feels more open and inclusive for the rest of us as well!

I don't know why we continue to build (or restructure) spaces that are not only unwelcoming to "others" but also to everyone even "us" (however that's defined). It is as if we want a God who wants us to be uncomfortable.

Scott Gunn said...


I very much hope to see SGN in person one day soon -- I've never made the time in my previous trips to SFO. I'm a bit of a church architecture fan, and yours is already one of my faves, even before a visit.

Mostly I think people don't build (or renovate) accessible buildings for two reasons. First, we don't understand the problem. There's no better way to fix that than to sit in a wheelchair and see what it's like. Second, we don't see people in wheelchairs in our buildings, so we don't tend to focus on solving problems that relate to them. Now, why might it be that we don't see people in wheelchairs in church? Could it be there's nowhere for them to sit? Might it be that they can't come in the front door with everyone else?

Anyway, glad you found your way to this blog. A friend of mine is at a conference there this week. I'm sure I'll hear all about the greatness of SGN next week!