Most churches include a welcome statement in their bulletin but many churches are not welcoming in subtle ways. Many churches are missing critical elements of accessibility but more important a critical elements of welcoming. Getting to the communion rail or up to the lectern to speak should not have to require an usher for help, this is disrespectful to the disabled or elderly person and can be a source of great anxiety and can make members reluctant to participate knowing they may fall or that they will need help. New churches should have railings and ramps but older churches usually do not. In my own church it took an older couple to donate money for the rails and then many calls to me to hurry up and get the work done. It was during the design of the rails that I realized that it was truly a matter of respect and a way to give older members the mobility they needed to worship and not feel separated from the rest of the congregation.
The design pictured here was installed in a 1950’s era church and designed to be removable. The rail structure is steel painted and the rails are maple to match the other wood trim and paneling in the sanctuary. The existing risers and altar platform are cast concrete so the brackets to support the rails were bolted to the face of the riser. The intent was to avoid replacing the carpet and to avoid core drilling holes in to the slab. Of course we hit rebar almost every time and it was still a challenge to get the brackets installed. The rails are removable, the center rail is moved most often but for the most part the rails are in kept in place except for choir and theatrical presentations that occur in the center of the platform.
The rails should be designed to harmonize with the design of the church and not to stand out or distract from the altar, pulpit or lectern. It may be tempting to use brass for these rails but this should be avoided to prevent tedious wrapping during the Lenten season when brass appointments are covered or replaced with wood. These rail supports are painted steel and have held up well. The rails are maple and with as much as the center rail is moved it has become little loose over the last 7 years. I debated the use of curved members in the rail design as the building is very rectilinear but they seem to soften the design and add just enough interest to be worthy of being a part of the altar platform but not too much interest to be distracting.
Welcoming spaces reduce the barriers to full worship and full participation by your members, full accessibility should be a goal for all church communities. So identify the areas in your church home that can be made more accessible and get it done, don’t wait for the disabled members to rise up in protest or donate money and call you every week till it’s done.