Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Locked Out

"Pastor, it's mighty hard for a handicapped person to get into the church right now."

These are the words with which I was greeted on Sunday morning. They came from my parishioner, Gilbert, a 96 year-old-retired attorney who has been a member of Mount Vernon Place for decades. Gilbert is one of many members whose Sunday routine has been interrupted because of the renovation project at the church. He used to be able to walk in the front doors off of Massachusetts Avenue, take the elevator to his Sunday school room on the third floor, take the elevator back to the second floor where the sanctuary entrance is located, and then step onto a motorized lift with his walker in order to be lowered down into the sanctuary.

Since we had to vacate the building with the elevator on September 1, however, Gilbert and many others have had to adjust to a different routine. They have had to walk in one door for Sunday school and then back outside in order to walk into another door for worship in the undercroft theatre, as this way is the only way one can get from Sunday school to worship without using any steps. Gilbert and many others are making sacrifices each time they come to the church. They cannot step in from the cold or the rain and be done with it. Instead, they have to step in for one thing, step back outside, and then step back in for another thing. If I were them, I might stay home and watch a television evangelist for my dose of good news! But they, thank God, keep coming.

If this new routine were not enough, we have found that there are doors locked at times that are not supposed to be locked. We are using doors that we have never used before, and many of them lock without us wanting them locked. They lock without us having a key to get them opened. They lock, leaving Gilbert and many others stuck outside.

Pastor, it's mighty hard for someone with a handicap to get into church today.

I keep thinking about Gilbert's comment and the one door he can use being locked. How many other individuals feel locked out of the church? How many handicapped people have stayed away from Mount Vernon Place because it is too difficult to get inside? How many handicapped people have refused to sing in the choir because the choir loft requires that one be able to climb stairs? How many handicapped people have said "no" to reading scripture or serving communion because the chancel area has stairs?

Not only this, but how many people believe the doors of the church are "locked" to them because of the sins of the past or of the present? Because they do not have anything to wear that comes even close to what they see Sunday church folk wearing? Because they have been told that they are going to burn in hell because of their sexual orientation? Because they do not know anything about the Bible? Because someone once told them they were not good enough to be loved by God?

It's true that the doors to many churches around the world have appeared locked to countless children of God. The church has not done a good job of reminding itself that we are all sinners in need of God's grace and redemption. The church has often forgotten what Jesus said about how we are to not judge others. The church has failed to practice what it preaches.

It's true that we are having a hard time getting all of the doors unlocked on Sunday mornings. There is always one door that seems to stick. But I hope and pray that no one will feel locked outside of the church for long. I pray that somewhere, there will always be an opening for anyone and everyone to come to inside.

Now, let me try to find that key.

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