We are called by God to widen God’s welcome.
In 2005, General Synod 25 of the United Church of Christ called on settings of the United Church of Christ to declare themselves accessible to all (A2A):
“The Twenty-fifth General Synod of the United Church of Christ calls on Conferences, Associations, congregations, seminaries and colleges, campus ministries, camps, covenanted ministries and all other UCC organizations to embody the philosophy of inclusion and interdependence, embark on study and reflection activities about disabilities, disabilities rights, and ways congregations are able to become accessible to all (A2A), remove or overcome barriers to welcoming and including all people in the work and witness of the United Church of Christ, and to support and implement provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
Since First United Church of Tampa has a long history of including people who are differently abled in the full life of our church, we wanted to make a formal declaration to make this important example of widening God’s welcome known.
SOME HELPFUL TIPS:
- Stress the person, not the disability.
- Always speak directly to persons with a disability instead of talking only to their companions.
- Don’t hesitate to ask a person if you can help. Then follow his or her instructions.
- Provide seating so family and friends can stay together, not separate. Shorten some pews so that persons in wheelchairs can sit with/among other worshipers.
- Do not move a wheelchair, cane or crutches out of reach of the person who uses them.
- If you must lift a wheelchair, follow the person’s instructions carefully. She or he knows what works best.
- Honor decisions. A person who uses a wheelchair may, at times, choose to walk.
- When greeting a person with a hearing disability, never speak directly into the person’s ear. Speak clearly, slowly and normally. Provide audio aids, as necessary and requested. If necessary, communicate in writing.
- Resist the urge to complete words or sentences for persons with a speech disability. Give your full, unhurried attention.
- When greeting a person with a visual disability, identify not only yourself but your role (usher, greeter, pastor, etc.). Offer a bulletin whether the person can read it or not. Make sure large-print bulletins and hymnals are available.
- Some persons with mental illness may be disruptive. Designate one or two church members willing to approach such a person quietly. Accompany them to a place where they can talk aloud.
- If some are uncomfortable assisting those with developmental disabilities, find those more inclined to help. Empower those who can explain the service, share a hymnal or be a companion at lunch or times of fellowship.
- In case of seizure, don’t attempt restraint or put objects in the person’s mouth. Move objects or furniture to prevent injury. After seizure, offer reassurance and a comfortable place to rest.
- Keep contact numbers posted by church telephones. A seizure could be a sign of epilepsy, stroke or a reaction to medication. Quickly find a nurse, doctor or informed family member to attend to the person’s needs while emergency medical assistance is contacted.
- To invite full participation, make accessible not only the major areas of the church facility, but also the choir loft, lectern/pulpit and chancel.
Adapted suggestions from “Any Body, Everybody, Christ’s Body,” a congregational resource created by the UCC Disability Ministries.