In your mind’s eye, take a photo of your church’s entrance. Better yet, look for a picture on your church’s website or Facebook page.
How many stairs are in that photo?
I’ve looked at photos of several UU churches online this past week, and I’ve got to tell you, there are a lot of stairs.
Today I “liked” a UU congregation on Facebook (this is one of the easiest ways for an Alaskan UU to “visit” other member congregations of the UUA). A photo of the church shows it built on a hillside, its back to a wooded area, with at least twelve stairs built into the hillside leading to the front entrance. No parking-lot level entrance is visible in the photo.
My first thought as I looked at that photo was to wonder how my wheelchair-using partner would get in. Further poking around on the congregation’s website reveals other aspects of the building that would make her experience of attending services separate, and unequal.
I’m writing this, not to shame congregations whose buildings are less than welcoming to wheelchair-users, but to make a pragmatic argument.
Here it is: churches thinking about new buildings should first increase the diversity of their membership.
Buildings emerge from imagination, and imagination emerges from experience. If the combined experience of a congregation’s members is very diverse, than the congregation will imagine a building that works for a wider variety of newcomers.
Of course, the logical question is, “How can we increase the diversity of our membership when our current building keeps us from extending a barrier-free welcome?”
I don’t have a good answer to that question. I suspect that an answer begins with humility, with admitting the limits of our welcome, and with asking for help from those our buildings exclude.