(What do the A Church Near You ‘tags’ really mean to a person searching for their church?)
When a church updates their ‘A Church Near You’ page, or adds a service, they are given the option of adding from a long list of ‘tags’ which help people to find what they need when they are searching[i]. For example, someone might need a church with a ramped entrance, or with sign language used, or an informal style service, or to ensure the liturgy will be familiar.
But what do these labels really mean? Often churches use ‘inclusive’ or ‘accessible’ when describing their churches but may be thinking of one or two aspects, rather than the experience as a whole.
For example, a church may be welcoming to those who have dementia at their midweek coffee morning, but may struggle if there is a disturbance during the communion service on a Sunday. Another may have a ramped entrance but no changing places toilet big enough for an adult needing assistance.
It is easy to become disheartened at the breadth of potential changes which may need to happen in our church buildings (and perhaps in the way congregations think) in order for them to be truly welcoming. However, this is where honest labels really help!
If a visitor is looking to come to your church, they already know what they need. They know that our buildings are often far from perfect and they appreciate it when we are aware and trying to be increasingly accessible. Our attitude can count for an awful lot.
The Enabling Church Course, created by Churches for All, has been designed for this purpose: to help us improve our awareness and subsequently create ways to ensure our churches are more open too – physically, practically and in their sense of welcome.
The Grove booklet ‘Worship and Disability: A Kingdom for All’ challenges us to rethink our use of the word ‘disabled’ beyond the physical/mental:
“People are disabled not just by their body or mind but also by society – given the right welcome, environment, support and acceptance that everyone is different the significance of disability can be hugely decreased”[ii].
In every area of society, there are individuals and families who are affected by ‘difference’. So the question could be asked, why do we settle for a false image of societal ‘norms’? Why settle for ‘most people can read’ or ‘most people can hear’ or even ‘most people can walk’?
What if loving our neighbour as ourselves means providing extras which we recognise would make someone’s life and inclusion that bit easier?
“Ministry that involves disabled people is not extra to the Gospel, is the Gospel[i].”
There are many easy and practical alterations which we can make to our fellowship and worship environments. Most of these will increase accessibility for everyone present, rather than simply benefit a few.
Please get in touch with Bill Braviner (Diocesan Disability Advisor) or the Mission Support Team at Cuthbert House, to chat these through.