An open door? Accessibility and the church

Published: Sunday September 1, 2019

As we think about welcome and inclusivity in our churches, the Revd Dr Tom Clammer, who often preaches in Tutshill and uses a wheelchair talks about his experiences of accessing unfamiliar churches and what we can do to make life easier.

“Ancient, historic buildings are not easy! The majority of the churches in the Diocese of Gloucester are beautiful, listed buildings that also present a challenge to those of us that have mobility challenges. It’s important to say here that I don’t think any disabled people expect ancient buildings to be ripped up and rebuilt!

What makes the difference is where the information about access is available. Is information about access available on your website? Or on the church noticeboard? What I really need to know is whether I can get into the building. It is a profoundly humiliating experience to arrive at church for a service and not be able to get in through the door. Most steps can be dealt with by a set of reasonably cheap folding ramps, even if permanent changes can’t be made. If you really can’t make the building wheelchair accessible, please be honest about that. It’s much better to know in advance so that I can make an informed decision about where to worship.

“Does the church expect people with disabilities to come? It’s really obvious if I go to a church that hasn’t thought about the disabled. Equally, it is really obvious if a church has done that thinking. Can I get to the communion rail? If not, will someone ask me whether I would like to receive communion in my seat? Is there space in the church for me to sit with my wife, with the rest of the congregation?

“These reflections are obviously based on having mobility challenges. I think that the basic principles: is the information available easily, and is this a church that expects everyone to be able to worship in it, apply across the board though. It is so easy for your church to be welcoming. Thank you for taking the time to do so.”

Tom was formerly Priest in Charge of Deerhurst and Apperley etc, Precentor at Salisbury Cathedral and is now a writer and teacher.

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