Across the UCC: Becoming barrier-free
Written by Carol L. Pavlik
September 2004

Carol L. Pavlik

Kamp Kaleo—an accessible-to-all campground

Kamp Kaleo, a campground of the Nebraska Conference, is located one-half mile outside Burwell, Neb. Home to many camps for all ages throughout the year, Kamp Kaleo offers Adventures in Community (AIC), a camp enabling developmentally disabled adults from group homes to experience the outdoors and be part of a community.

The Rev. Jeanne Tyler, who served as the chaplain for AIC for many years, explains that the camp provides companion campers.

"Companion campers are members of [UCC and Disciples of Christ churches] who we call Ôtemporarily able-bodied' adults," Tyler says. "We help with some personal hygiene, all the way to taking people out in the canoes to taking people out on hikes, to having a wonderful loud, raucous dance, with a hayride. And we have worship."

Many of the campers with developmental disabilities don't get outside very much, Tyler says, but the blessings of the camp are wrapped in the oneness of human community, and the oneness felt with creation.

One night stands out in Tyler's memory.

"Nebraska skies are very big skies," she says. "One night, the stars came out and looked like diamonds in the sky. It was just beautiful. We sang that night for a half hour later, after worship ended. People were so relaxed that we just sat around and sang after the benediction."

Tyler, who along with her husband, John, is a co-pastor at St. Paul UCC in Lincoln, Neb., is an active member of UCC Disabilities Ministries, where she works to raise awareness surrounding accessibility issues in her Conference.

A challenge grant initiated by Tyler and the Nebraska Conference resulted in Kamp Kaleo raising enough funds to provide sidewalks from its cabins to its bathhouses. Tyler says the sidewalks will help people with disabilities to get around independently at the camp, meaning more people can enjoy Kamp Kaleo's rustic beauty. "It's a good thing to do, to challenge people to come up with their own funds," Tyler says. "Through Adventures in Community Camp, we also have to push, challenge people that they can do more."

Acceptance, not pity, is Ônormal' for disabled

The Rev. Bob Molsberry, pastor of UCC-Congregational in Grinnell, Iowa, will be observing Access Sunday at his church on October 10, but he's torn about the best way to do it.

At one time, he'd thought about doing some simulation exercises, to promote understanding about accessing the world with limited vision or movement. Vaseline smeared on glasses lenses, for example, might simulate the difficulty of reading a small-print bulletin for those with impaired vision. Having to negotiate the sanctuary with a borrowed wheelchair could be a challenge. But Molsberry has reservations. "We need to recognize people's differences, but accept them and not pity them, not wish that they were normal," he says.

Molsberry is a wheelchair user, since a bike accident in 1997. In his book, "Blindsided by Grace: Entering the World of Disability" (Augsburg- Fortress 2004), Molsberry describes his view on accessibility in churches.

"I try to get away from the notion that everybody with a disability is praying for healing and to get back to normal, so to speak," he says. "The biggest issue is adjustment and that issue of diversity and difference, rather than the need for a medical fix."

In a litany, entitled "Grateful for Healing: A Litany Celebrating Access Sunday," Molsberry describes the varieties of healing as not just physical or mental cures; healing can also come in the form of hope, feeling whole and being included in community.

"Grateful for Healing," a litany for use on Access Sunday, October 10, is available online at

Philadelphia church breaking barriers

St. Luke's UCC in Philadelphia was reasonably handicap accessible when the Rev. Chris Paules began her ministry there. The parking lot is level. A rear entrance to the building enables a person to reach the sanctuary, offices and the social hall without navigating stairs.

"This is a church that someone can be a part of for as long as they want to be, to whatever age or ability," Paules says. "It's a wonderful feature."

Paules and her congregation use the phrase "widening the circle" to describe their interest in making St. Luke's a barrier-free place of worship. This has meant adding a ramp so that the chancel is accessible for choir members and speakers. "Not only can people be an active participant in leadership in worship, folks can then also come and join the community around the communion table," Paules says. And in an ongoing project to "cozy up" the worship space, St. Luke's will be rearranging their pews so that they are on a slant, adding more space between the pews for easier maneuverability for those with mobility aids such as canes, walkers or crutches.

While some accessibility projects involve physical changes to the church facility, the Rev. Jeanne Tyler, an accessibility advocate from Lincoln, Neb., feels that many accessibility issues can be solved with a little common sense and a lot of awareness about who is coming through the church doors. Large-print bulletins, hymnals and hearing assists are some ways to accommodate parishioners, but there might be other needs that are more singular.

"We have a person in our congregation who is gluten intolerant," Tyler says. "So we put corn chips along with the bread for communion."

A woman often worships at Tyler's church who is hearing impaired. "When I see her come in, I just run upstairs and make a copy of my sermon and give it to her so she can read along with it," she says. "See, there are a hundred things like that. Some of the little things really don't cost a lot. But they affirm people, and help them participate in worship."

At a glance

Browntown, WI.
The Rev. Ray Sowersby of Scotland, who accepted a call to become pastor of Peace UCC in March 2003, finally has arrived at his new parish home on this side of the Atlantic. Stricter immigration procedures delayed the move a bit, but the congregation is delighted that he and his wife, Caroline, are now settled. The cross-continental relationship began when the church's handbell choir visited Sowersby's former church in England. (Monroe Times)

Phoenixville, PA.
The organic community garden at St. John's UCC, established in 1991, is a highly regarded city mission project. Thirty 25-square-foot sections are offered free for families' use, and 10 percent of harvests are donated to benefit a local food bank. Now, thanks to a grant in May from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, the church is constructing a permanent, 46-foot-wide labyrinth on site. The meditative turf pathway should be completed in October. (Phoenixville News)

South St. Paul, MN.
Just prior to July's annual summer gathering of the UCC's Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, Clark Memorial UCC became the 500th UCC congregation to formally declare itself to be "open and affirming" (ONA) of LGBT persons. Despite the milestone, the plateau-resistant movement continues to grow, with First Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., becoming the most recent addition at #512.

Suisun City, CA.
Beginning Aug. 19 and continuing monthly, Suisun Congregational UCC will be hosting an interfaith prayer and reconciliation gathering at its church, because of a wave of violent incidents that have impacted several area congregations. Arson at a Jewish synagogue, shots fired at a Sikh temple and an armed robbery at a Church of Christ—although all unrelated—have prompted religious leaders to call for a demonstration of community unity. (Vacaville Reporter)


'I am UCC'

I have come to the conclusion that all of us have an obligation as individuals, as church members and as citizens of the most powerful country on earth to make realistic and accurate predictions of the impact of any proposed action or policy on the people who will be affected by them.

The Hon. Frederica S. Brenneman, a member of Saugatuck Congregational UCC in Westport, Conn., who in 1967 became only the second female to be appointed a judge in Connecticut, speaking to the Connecticut Conference in 2003. She is the mother of actor Amy Brenneman, star of the CBS television drama, "Judging Amy."


Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115