Opening the doors

A lot of Quaker meetinghouses are pretty old, and mostly we love them. We enjoy the sense of history and connectedness to the past, and many meetings spend a great deal of time and effort preserving their buildings and keeping them as “authentic” as possible.

Quakers also don’t like to spend money – many meetinghouses were built when they had a lot more members, and when there were many fewer demands on our funds. Some Quakers also think that it’s “unspiritual” to spend money on buildings, when there are so many important causes and ministries out there asking for help.

So, we tend not to spend money on updating our buildings. “It was good enough 50 or 100 years ago, it’s good enough now.”

This means that many Quaker meetinghouses aren’t well adapted for full use by people with various abilities. They have too many stairs, bathrooms which are impossible to get in and out of, doors that are too narrow, cupboards and shelves which are out of reach. At worship, few meetinghouses provide inviting space for wheelchair users. People with limited hearing often complain they can’t follow what speakers are saying. Most meetings don’t even have large-print hymnals and Bibles for worship!

More important, many meetings have what I call an “attitude barrier”. It’s simply too much trouble to make changes to accommodate people with different abilities – even if they know these folks want to come and participate! Instead of stretching their imagination and resources to be open, many meetings just can’t be bothered.

For the last 20 years, the meeting where I work (West Richmond Friends) has been working to make our meetinghouse, our worship and all of our programs as fully accessible as possible. Some of the things we’ve done have been expensive, but most of the changes have been in our attitude.

  • Our new elevator, installed in 2006, makes it easy for people to get to both the main floor and the lower level. We chose an entrance under the archway between the meetinghouse and the Friends School next door, so that cars can load and unload under cover from the weather. Greeters are always available on Sunday to help operate the elevator and assist people who need help.
  • Most people who need a wheel chair bring their own, but we also have extra wheel chairs available to move people around on either level of the building – if someone gets tired, for example.
  • We created “parking spots” in our worship room so wheelchair users don’t feel crowded. Each parking spot also has a rack which hold both of our two hymnals, a Bible, pencils and 3×5 cards for taking notes. A table near the entrance to the worship room holds large-print Bibles, hymnals and bulletins, as well as the special hearing system which captures and amplifies what’s said during worship.
  • We have one ADA-compliant accessible rest room, and this summer we’re converting a second. All bathrooms in the building also have grab rails installed for safety.
  • Sermons on tape are available for most worship services; many sermons are also posted on our web site. Worship bulletins are also mailed regularly to homebound Friends who ask for them.
  • Walkers, commodes, canes and other equipment are available for long or short-term loan. These are donated by families and individuals.
  • In the meetinghouse kitchen, we’ve set up a special drawer at knee level, which holds a few dishes, cups and table ware. This is so Friends in wheelchairs don’t have to ask for help or wait when they need these things at a potluck meal.

These are just a few examples of things we’ve done, and our meeting is always looking for new ways to be more accessible and inviting.

The elevator was expensive – it cost about $42,000 when it was installed 8 years ago. Some Friends questioned whether it would be used enough to make it worthwhile. We’ve been surprised by how many new people have come to our meeting (and stayed!) because of the effort we’ve made. The elevator is used at least 10-15 times every week. If it lasts for 30 years (and it will probably last much longer than that) it will work out to about $25 a week – a small price to pay for making our worship and our building fully accessible.

More important than the money, though, has been our meeting’s across-the-board change of attitude. We’re not being condescendingly generous – we recognize that we need these folks in our meeting! We want to be open to everyone, and we’ll make whatever changes are needed to include these Friends in all parts of our worship and program.

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2 Responses to “Opening the doors”


  1. 1 franiel32 June 12, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I’m very glad to here that your meeting is making this effort and I pray that more meetings follow in your footsteps.

  2. 2 Meg July 30, 2014 at 10:51 am

    There is also a bit of “struggling is noble” that we need to drop.
    Last summer I drove an elderly ill Friend one hour from the next county to a peace concert for Trayvon Martin. When we arrived we learned there was no parking on site, not even allowed to pull close to the building. The young woman directing us to park a three block walk away told us that one member in a wheelchair always takes the bus and everyone should take the bus or walk and bike. I didn’t think I needed to point out that bus service where the Friend lived is minimal on Sundays and definitely didn’t tell her what type of cancer he had.


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Disclaimer

All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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