A toolkit for rural churches
Accessible Welcome, a new resource from The Arthur Rank Centre, is designed to help rural churches work towards ensuring that their church – both the building and their worship – is accessible to all.
A minister was trying to encourage a church congregation to make adaptations to the building for people with disabilities. To get ideas, a group decided to spend a day visiting churches who had made such provision. The group included Ted, a long-term member who was a wheelchair user. Helping Ted to be loaded into the minibus in his chair certainly broke the ice, allowing people to ask questions they might otherwise not have done. As they visited other church buildings, the group began to see things through Ted’s eyes, and became quite critical on his behalf. By the end of the day, the group were determined to change things so that their friend Ted could feel comfortable in their building. What had begun as a way of complying with legislation had become an exercise in true hospitality.
HOW ACCESSIBLE IS YOUR CHURCH?
The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 and the Equalities Act of 2010 make it clear that we have a legal responsibility to make our church buildings accessible. On a practical level, an accessible building will be of benefit to everyone, not only those people with disabilities; improving access for a wheelchair also improves access for a baby buggy. However, for Christians taking action is about more than practicalities and legal requirements; making our buildings accessible is about love, care and welcome.
This guide contains some practical tips to encourage that welcome. Some adaptations may be costly – ramps and adapted toilets, for example – but there are various pots of funding available for these (see the list of resources at the end of this booklet). Other things may be a matter of good housekeeping and thinking about how we might feel if we needed extra help. If you undertake any kind of structural work you will need to contact the relevant church bodies and seek professional help.
RURAL CHURCH BUILDINGS
Rural church buildings vary in size and lay out. There can be challenges with small doors and narrow corridors and uneven floors. External access can also be an issue if, for example, a church is at the top of a steep hill. On the other hand, a small space which is warm, comfortable and easy to access can be a great place to get to know people. Rural churches can sometimes be the only community space in a village, so it is important they are accessible to everyone. You may not need to do everything suggested in this resource; we are trying to offer advice to churches of all shapes and sizes. Think of your building and your community and what would really make a difference to your ability to welcome people.
Remember the story of Ted with which we began: is there someone in your community who may find it difficult to use your building? If so, do you know them well enough to ask them without causing them embarrassment what they might find helpful? Remember their concerns may be with other aspects rather than physical access, such as the readability of signage or leaflets.
At the end of the resource you will find an extensive list of organisations and initiatives that support churches to become more inclusive and accessible; we hope these will be useful as you work out what your next steps are as a church. We’d love to hear your stories of the ways in which you are seeking to offer an accessible welcome to those in your church and community!
Accessible Welcome really helpfully brings together good advice; having cared for my Mum through her dementia I’m a big advocate of recognising those needs in our congregations.
Rachel Wakeman, Trust Officer, United Reformed Church