Ohio Disability and Ministry Collaborative, a ministry of the West Ohio Conference announced a pilot grant program to fund projects for the improvement of church accessibility in the West Ohio Conference.
Crosswood United Methodist Church in the Capital Area District applied and was awarded a grant to continue making needed repairs and improvements to their church, eliminating barriers for inclusive participation in worship.
Julia Jones of Crosswood UMC gives her testimony of her experience as a disabled music worship leader.
Many years ago, Crosswood UMC in Marion installed a wheelchair lift to our altar area because our pastor at that time needed it. Our altar area, where I lead music every Sunday, was accessible only by steps in five different locations. About ten years ago, the lift stopped functioning due to faulty original installation. The altar area was back to being accessible only by steps. Church leadership determined it wasn’t worth repairing since they didn’t perceive a need for it. The rest of the church was totally accessible: doors, bathrooms, parking, sanctuary, fellowship hall, etc. Unless you are disabled, either temporarily or permanently, you probably don’t think anything about walking up and down seven or eight steps, neither did the leadership. Now the congregation is ten years older, and things have changed for many of us.
I am a disabled worship music leader at Crosswood UMC. My disability makes navigating steps painful and unsafe. Other congregants and students in our preschool have similar difficulties. Some in our church family are amputees, have breathing problems, are wheelchair bound or have the same kind of issues I have with steps. Many in our congregation cannot easily participate in standard parts of church life and worship like scripture reading, decorating the altar area, contributing to the music ministry, preparing communion, etc. One of our pianists quit playing because steps took her breath away. We even had one preschooler who had to be carried up the steps in his wheelchair so he could take part in his graduation ceremony.
For those of us with disabilities, we plan ahead when we know there are barriers. I used to plan my music leadership so that I walked up and down the steps the fewest number of times possible. If I didn’t, I paid for it for several days of increased pain and immobility. There was a very real barrier in our church, and only some of us could fully participate and approach the altar. In working on this project, I realized our disabilities are not the barriers…building designs are the barriers.
That’s how it was until we applied for an accessibility grant and completed our wheelchair lift repair project in December 2022. I say prayers of thanks to the West Ohio Conference for the grant and every other person who worked to make the project happen. It took most of the year, but our trustees and the elevator company finally got all the repairs completed. In the final step, the State of Ohio certified the lift, and we began using it. I admit I was a bit giddy the first few times. Now I use the lift every Sunday and any other day I am there and need to be in the altar area. Anyone who wants to take part in activities and worship in the altar area has a safe and painless way to do that. It's thrilling to know there are now no building barriers in Crosswood UMC between the people and God’s altar. That’s how it should always be.