A handicapped van parking space with the correct opening to the right side for our wheelchair van was waiting for us at the first church we visited. A welcome sight indeed! I had no difficulty rolling into the front door of the church in my Jazzy Elite, where we were greeted warmly by many folks. The sanctuary was on the same floor, and we were informed that there were pew cuts available for my wheelchair. I pulled easily into the space by the fourth pew so I could sit next to my husband.
After the service, we were greeted by folks in nearby pews. We felt very welcomed. A bag with pencils, a pen, and a coffee mug was given to us for being first-time visitors.
The second church we visited was one we had worshipped with in the past. At that time, I was using a wheelchair on a part-time basis. There had been no pew cuts for wheelchairs then. Much to my dismay, there still were no special spaces for wheelchairs. We sat in the very back of the long, traditional sanctuary. After the service, the pastor and another member told us that I would be welcome to sit along the side of the pews. However, this did not seem feasible because the aisles were not wide. A number of people welcomed us after the service, but the damage was done by only having a viable option of sitting in the back of the sanctuary.
The third and final church we visited had a large open lobby which allowed us to talk with several people we already knew. Someone told us that there were cuts in the sanctuary for my wheelchair. The worship center was bright and lovely, and we felt at home during the service. Afterwards, quite a few people greeted us.
All three of the churches had accessible sanctuaries on the first floor. We enjoyed all the services with their music and messages. The parking lots were all accessible, but only two of the sanctuaries had special seating space for wheelchairs. Each of the churches offered some level of friendliness from the members and pastors. However, it felt like only two of the churches were truly hospitable to people in wheelchairs.
We decided to return to one of the churches and believe that we may have found a new church home. The open areas in the church allow me to feel more comfortable and included. This is an important factor in an accessible church community.
A graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary, Jill is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. She is now retired after serving as a chaplain in hospitals, hospice and retirement communities. She is currently a freelance writer living in Lititz, PA, with her husband, the Rev. Timothy D. Speicher.