The questions from Church Alive have offered interesting insights into what issues Branch Churches are dealing with. Most have been mundane, how to improve community outreach, how to increase membership, and then there was this one:
Week 26: “Could you give me some ideas on how a church can include those who are physically challenged? Our church has a chair lift in the hall but that’s about all. There’s a tendency to think that if we put in some structural aids, we might be accepting the physical difficulty, and not encouraging healing. What are other churches doing in this regard?”
The fact that the issue of church accessibility for those with physical challenges is even an issue is simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating. “Physical difficulties” are very real, limiting access to a church by making it nearly impossible to get into does not “encourage healing” it drives people away.
The second commenter sums up my reaction to this question nicely:
I find this week’s question somewhat “mind-boggling”. It is difficult to imagine that any branch church would seriously be grappling with this question. How could you deny physical access to the church service based upon the individual’s inability to walk up the steps to the sanctuary if it were possible for the church to build some kind of ramp or other means of entry? It would be like saying that a person could not use reading glasses because this would be recognizing a physical limitation. How absurd! If this really is an issue in some branch churches, then it is not difficult to see why the Christian Science church is in such a diminished state today. This attitude is not genuine Christian Science, it is not even Christian!
I think the “Spiritual Experts” got the answer mostly right. Expert 1:
In the Bible in the book of Mark 2, you’ll find an account that directly addresses this question. As church members, are we like the four friends who loved their friend with the palsy enough to take down a roof and lower him into a building where Jesus was? They knew the presence of the Christ was there to heal their friend. Shouldn’t we also be willing to remove the stumbling blocks for our fellowman, so they can experience healing in our church services?
In the definition of Church in the Glossary of Science and Health, it says that Church “affords proof of its utility” (see p. 583). If anyone and everyone can’t get into the church building, that surely isn’t the highest sense of usefulness we could offer the community. (emphasis mine)
In the Book of Mark 2, the friends took off the roof to get their physically challenged companion to Jesus, today, he’d likely be in a wheelchair, and the roof would get to stay put. Would it really that difficult to install a ramp and some hand rails to accommodate someone who is actively attempting to attend a church service?
Expert 2 suggests praying about it. I’m going to take it a step further and recommend they research and comply with ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
As with most internet forums, there is at least one commenter who makes me question my faith in humanity. Commenter #11’s attitude is rather off-putting:
It is the Truth that heals, and church attendance is not a requirement. One hundred pages in the textbook are testimonies from people who were healed by studying the textbook. If more time and resources would be given to opening closed Reading Rooms, increasing hours and having them accessable to more people at convenient to the public’s time, healing would be experienced on a mighty scale. Active Reading Rooms, welcome those seeking healing, as well as those who wear ethnic clothing, student attire, and speak other than English and are accessable to disabled. Some churches budget money to pay for child care, etc for librarians to serve. Thanks for the great ideas expressed in this. (emphasis mine)
The “Truth” may heal, and church attendance may not be “a requirement” but what is wrong with allowing for those in “ethnic clothing, student attire, and speak other than English” or are disabled to attend Sunday Services? Jesus had no problem associating with sinners and tax collectors, why should people who are “different” be banished to a Reading Room and not welcomed to Sunday Services? To quote commenter #2 “This attitude is not genuine Christian Science, it is not even Christian!”
Then there was commenter #14, which made me very happy.
Our church has a ramp to ease access for those with physical challenges. It receives most use as a blessing to neighborhood skateboarders during the week.