December 10, 2014

Don't Presume: Ask!

Why is it important for all voices to be heard?

I was at a midsized parish that was in the midst of a feasibility study to determine what support was available for capital improvements. The plan was to look specifically at building accessibility for people who use a wheelchair, walker, or cane. At the time, folks needing a ramp needed to go outside the parish hall in order to access either the sanctuary or the restrooms, which were not accessible for all.

A gentleman, when asked if he would name this as a priority, stated, “I’m not sure I understand why this is a problem. I mean, if someone is in a wheel chair, a couple of us guys can just hoist him up and away he could go. You know, building community in the process.”

You may be surprised, reader, to know that this man later noted that he was almost 85.

It seemed this gentleman was unable to connect with the need of others for dignity and accessibility. 

I was reminded of this conversation earlier today while waiting at the airport for my flight home from New York. I went into a bathroom and through the open door of the handicapped stall, saw a woman who was struggling. After declining my offer of help, she accepted assistance from her just arrived traveling companion. Washing my hands I overheard the first woman say, “Susan, I’m really a mess. Real trouble. This bathroom is so… uggh. I don’t understand; I wish people with disabilities were asked to actually design bathrooms for the disabled.”

Often, we only consider other’s problems or afflictions when they impact our life together. Yet, how does this reflect our mission and ministry? I have wondered if the gentleman at the beginning of the story would change his opinion about said ramp when he found himself unable to walk the stairs. 

This is why its imperative for all voices to be heard when discerning a strategic plan, a capital campaign, or a call to ministry and to include those impacted by the decision making process. 

Have you ever encountered a time where you were excluded in a big decision that impacted you? Have you seen ways that parishes have successfully listened to all stakeholders and utilized their input? 

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