In 1958, St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota
moved into a brand new building on the corner of Logan and Franklin Avenues. The congregation had outgrown their former building
and the move was necessary for them to continue to grow.
What was unique about
their new facility is that it was architecturally accessible at a time when architectural accessibility was rare and inclusion
of persons with disabilities was seldom a concern.
But St. Paul’s had a Director of Religious Education who, as a young child, had had polio,
leaving her a wheelchair user for the remainder of her long life. Miss Nettie was much beloved by her congregation.
Having a building which denied her entrance was out of the question. So, the leaders of St.
Paul’s ramped the lower level entrance, installed an elevator, ramped admission to the chancel
and sanctuary, and somewhat later shortened several pews in order to accommodate a wheelchair.
St. Paul’s became accessible
to accommodate Miss Nettie. In so doing, they came to understand the meaning of inclusiveness and welcoming. They became
a fully accessible congregation.
The Americans with
Disabilities Act does not mandate architectural accessibility for churches. Those congregations which become accessible do
so not through legal mandate but through an understanding that the church is a place where all people must be able to enter
and to find a welcoming community.
in older buildings is very costly. For new construction, it is cost-effective. Some
states, as is true in Minnesota, mandate in their state
building code that all new construction must be accessible. Primarily then, we are writing to those of you with older buildings
but modern attitudes, those of you who believe that the Body of Christ is not complete until everyone is included.
Elsewhere on this web-site,
you will find a piece which details the more than fifty ways you can become accessible for little or no cost. I recommend
that you begin with these changes. Then, develop yourselves a “master plan” which lists all of the renovations
which must be undertaken. Do you have a leaky roof? Are there cracks in your sidewalks? Does the parking lot need to be enlarged?
List these along with ramping the exterior of the building and creating space for wheelchairs to be included within the congregation.
After you develop this list, prioritize the list. When you have money to accomplish the needed renovations, take them in order.
Putting accessibility at the top of your list may create dissension in your congregation.
Paying for renovations
is always problematic. Ask parishioners to contribute regularly to a building fund. If you offer space in your building to
outside groups, ask them to contribute whatever they can to that fund. Ask those who, upon their death, will leave money to
the church if you might have that money now. Remember that many of the projects you need to accomplish can be done by handy-persons
in your congregation. Unfortunately, there are few grants available for bricks and mortar projects.
We have included pictures
of the accessibility features at St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church. There are also articles on this web-site which address other facets of accessibility. The Episcopal Disability Network
has several resources which may be helpful to you, and their availability is also noted on the web-site. Call us if we can
be helpful to you. Visit other accessible churches in your vicinity and listen to their story.