ABC – Fully Accessible to Everyone!
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I’m glad to be able to report that our Lift Project is finally off the ground! Two weeks ago the County finally approved the architectural drawings, and a few days later we pulled the building permits. Chet Kelsey is overseeing the construction, in consultation with local building contractor John Hedrick. The upstairs bathroom has to be reduced a little in size to allow enough space for the lift. The remodeling of this facility is the first phase of the project, and it has already begun. Once the upstairs bathroom is usable again, the downstairs bathrooms will be gutted, enlarged and redesigned to meet ADA (“Americans with Disabilities Act”) standards. In the process, the Sunday School classroom across from the kitchen will be reduced in size by about 20%. Plumbing and electrical work will be done by sub-contractors, but much of the demolition, carpentry, wall construction, painting and flooring will be done by ABC volunteers. Finally, the lift itself will be installed by the manufacturing company. The entire project will take about two months.

Our goal is to make our church accessible to people who might have limited mobility because of injury, illness or age. Hopefully, physical barriers will no longer keep such people from worshiping and fellowshiping at ABC.

However, I got to thinking about other types of barriers that may stand in the way of full participation in our church’s life. Here are some things that came to my mind:

Language In Southern California, many people are limited in their ability to speak or understand English. Fortunately, there are other churches where their native tongue is spoken, and they’re likely to find a spiritual home there. But even people whose primary language is English may find that some of the churchy jargon we unconsciously use at ABC reminds them that they are outsiders and don’t belong.

Culture ABC is one of the more racially integrated congregations, and we are rightfully proud of this. But we need to acknowledge that we have different roots and come from a variety of different regions of the country, even different nations. Some grew up in Christian homes, while others had no church exposure in their youth. We come together from a variety of sets of values, and we may have clashing views of what’s important and what isn’t.

Class Not really a polite term, but it graphically describes the wide socioeconomic spectrum in a church like ours. Some of us may be living comfortably with a generous salary package, while others are living month-to-month on an entry-level salary, and still others are searching vainly for a job. One person may deposit a big check in the offering plate, while someone in the same pew drops in the “widow’s mite.” A brand new Mercedes may be parked next to a rusted-out 1974 VW van.

Age We can’t ignore the fact that musical tastes of teenagers and senior citizens don’t have much in common, and this can cause a major divide in church congregations. Whose music should we use in our worship services? If we exclusively choose traditional hymns, the youth will tune out. If we turn up the guitar amplifiers and put the drum set center stage, the old folk will turn down their hearing aids. And music is just the beginning; there’s the internet, and iPhones, and Facebook, etc., etc.

Religiosity Some people have been around churches all their lives; church is their turf. By contrast, others feel like a fish out of water when they’re in church. They don’t know when to stand, when to sit, how to address the pastor, if it’s OK to go to the ladies’ room. The hymns seem strange, and the words from Scripture sound quaint and magical. The church folk all seem so well-dressed and comfortable, which may make others feel all the more guilty and out-of-place.

Personality Sister Jones seems to know everybody and love everybody, while Sister Evans is painfully shy. Fellowship is easy for Sister Jones, but it is a very threatening experience for Sister Evans. Sister Jones walks up the church front steps with a bounce and a cheery greeting for everyone in sight. Sister Evans sneaks in the back door after the start of the service and sneaks out again before the benediction. Both have their place in the church, but it comes much more naturally to Sister Jones.

During the time when we’re changing ABC’s building to make it more accessible, let’s think about how we can eliminate other barriers that may stand in the way of someone’s full participation. I suggest as a slogan for the next few months, “ABC – FULLY ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE!”