Title Varies Slightly

23 Oct

How a Ramp Made Me Catholic

Well, ok, the Holy Spirit, bestowing grace, made me Catholic — but He used a ramp. Really. Let me tell you about it. (I thought I had before, but I’m not finding it in a blog search, so…)

All my life, my choice of place of worship was largely governed by wheelchair accessibility, particularly the availability of a restroom I could use. If this seems shallow to you, I encourage you to spend a week using only your home bathroom, and maybe one single stall at work, nowhere else.

When I was 10, my mother started looked for a church for me to attend. Now this was almost 40 years ago, and attitudes have changed, but I’m going to tell you straight up: no one wanted me there. Well that’s not quite true; a couple of churches were happy to tell my mom about their great programs for mentally handicapped kids.* But a bright kid in a wheelchair? THAT they didn’t have a plan for.

It was the next-to-last church she called that said, “Well, we have stairs to the Sunday school rooms for her grade — ” and as my mother was about to hang up in tears “–so we will have someone meet you there to carry her down. What kind of car do you have?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the testimony of the church I grew up in. So for many years, I was an Evangelical of very conservative stripe. But, for reasons I promise I will tell you in other posts, I started examining the Catholic Church. I managed to put off making a decision about that until a change of employment moved me away from my warm, welcoming, accessible, social-gospel-y church. (And how I got there from Evangelicalism? Another story!) A new town was a good reason to look at a new start.

So I came to Flagstaff, AZ, a town that is not especially wheelchair-friendly, and I located a Catholic Church within walking** distance. Just about a block further on was a combination Methodist/Presbyterian church. So I decided to “set a fleece before God.” This is a baptized way to ask for a sign.

“OK, God,” I said, “If I can get into Nativity, that’s where I’ll go, but if not, I’ll go on to the other church.” What, you say? You weren’t making this momentous decision on the basis of truth, but of ramps? Yes, actually. I had some data, but I also had my ambivalence. And I was kind of throwing the game here. I knew that the other church was accessible, because I had been there before. I had been told that Nativity was a historic building, and in my experience, that’s not good news for accessibility. Because of recent snows, I was barely making it along the street, so I figured even if there were a ramp, it wouldn’t be usable.

And then I arrived at Nativity of Our Lady, and there, although most of the sidewalks in town were still at least partly clogged with snow, was the beautiful, broad ramp along the side of the building — completely clear of the tiniest bit of snow.

I’m sure the person charged with clearing the ramp had no idea he was an evangelist. But he was.

I mention this because we have a snowy ramp problem in the Catholic Church. Although I could enter Nativity, and worship there, I had to go to the public library to use the restrooms. In 13 years, I’ve only worshiped at one parish where I was able to enter the confessional. I’ve never seen large-print bulletins at any parish I’ve attended. Signers are rare. We will often make services available if people are assertive and ask for them. But what about the seeker who just peeks in, and doesn’t see what she needs to become a part of the community?

Now, we’re not doing a lot better in Catholic New Media. I cannot think of a video podcast that provides closed captioning, or an audio podcast that has transcripts. I understand the ad-lib nature of many podcasts makes that difficult to do, but surely there is some way to improve what we offer?

Let’s do what we can to make sure that our real and virtual events have fewer barriers to the participation of all.

*that actually wasn’t the term that was used, but it’s the term that would be less offensive today.
**walking=going somewhere alone. Almost always means using the scooter wheelchair

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