“God Is on the Move – Raining Love, Mercy and Justice.” Worshipers gathered at Hudson Lake Mennonite Church on the afternoon of October 30, 2005 for a special “Handicap Accessibility Dedication Service.” From 2003 to 2005, the small church in the lakeside community west of South Bend went through a careful discernment process. It turned what some saw as an “impossible” and possibly self-serving project into a creative mission partnership. The result was a greater inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community.
According to Esther Lanting, pastor of the congregation, the project was originally envisioned as a foyer project, so that as the worshipping community gathered on Sunday morning, there would be a place for fellowship and conversation before entering the sanctuary. When another Indiana-Michigan Conference congregation, Shore Mennonite Church, found out about Hudson Lake’s dreams, Shore offered their first fruits money collected from their own recent building renovation project to be used for Hudson Lake’s foyer project.
Although an accessible restroom on the main level was a part of the plan, there was considerable discussion within the congregation on whether the foyer project was a good idea in light of much greater needs in the community and the world. In August 2004, the congregation was led in a discernment process, accompanied by prayer and fasting. As a final step at the close of a special Sunday morning service, worshippers were invited to give their one-minute word of counsel to the Ministerial Team. Said Lanting, “[we were] awestruck by the counsel of the congregation. Person after person came through and said they felt that God was asking us to make handicap accessibility our first priority, looking first to see if this could be done within the framework of the current structure.”
The Shore congregation readily agreed to this change of focus and made available not only the funds, but also volunteer labor. An accessibility audit that was done in 1997 by the MMA Disabilities Consultant, a predecessor ministry of Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet), helped identify the key accessibility issues and possible ways to address them.
Indiana-Michigan Conference and community connections spurred additional interest and donations, ranging from architectural services to volunteer labor. A special Capital Grant from the Conference provided a key portion of the financing. Beginning with ground-breaking on April 10, 2005, work proceeded during the spring and summer months to build a vestibule addition, complete with an accessible restroom and a lift to all levels of the building.
The October 30, 2005 Dedication Service was a joyful event as a parade of witnesses gave thanks to God and the many persons who had made the project possible. Lanting indicates that the lift has been used every Sunday since its installation.