Three Churches Receive Open Roof Award

Photo by Randy Miller
Open Roof Award is presented to three congregations this year. Shown here are representatives of the churches with Congregational Life Ministries executive Jonathan Shively (at left). The recipients are Hanover (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, represented by Geraldine Godfrey; Mountville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, represented by Rebecca Fuchs; and Wabash (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, represented by pastor Kay Gaier.

Three churches were chosen to receive the annual Open Roof Award, presented Saturday during the Mission and Ministry Board meeting. The award recognizes Church of the Brethren congregations or districts that have made great strides in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities.

“This year I am pleased to present the 2012 Open Roof Award to not just one congregation but to three,” said Congregational Life Ministries executive director Jonathan Shively. “With such excellent nominations this year, we decided that it’s more important to recognize the work being done in our congregations rather than single out one winner.”

Created in 2004, the Open Roof Award was inspired by scripture from Mark 2:3-4 in the NRSV: “Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when whey could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.”

Completion of what members of the Hanover (Pa.) Church of the Brethren referred to as their “accessibility project” was a long time coming. It was discussed for more than 25 years but, as they put it, “the Holy Spirit didn’t give up, and worked powerfully within us to look outward to the needs of all persons.”

In 2010, a $220,000 project was initiated to make the church building more accessible. Changes included connecting the narthex to the fellowship hall via a ramp, and the addition of an enclosed lift to access all three levels. Pew cut-outs were competed to accommodate wheelchairs. A new sound system was installed in 2009, including individual listening devices. In addition, a sign-language interpreter is now available. In addition, the moderator of the Hanover Church is a polio survivor who has been instrumental as part of the accessibility committee, and who has begun a post-polio support group in the now-accessible church building.

Mountville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren also recently completed a renovation project, the plans for which they describe as being “rooted in the desire to extend the hospitality of Christ to all people.” Thanks to the project, a new elevator, purchased with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Joni and Friends Foundation, provides wheelchair access to the building’s lower level, where Sunday school classes meet. New restrooms with handicap-accessible facilities were added on both levels of the building. All light switches are automatic. Signage for exits and restrooms includes Braille lettering.

A nomination from a member of Wabash (Ind.) Church of the Brethren was received just after the deadline for last year’s awards ceremony. “We knew it was a good one, so we held onto it for this year,” Shively said. The best way to express what goes on at the Wabash Church is simply to share words directly from the nomination form. It reads, in part, ‘The thing about the Wabash Church of the Brethren is that they are built on a model of simplicity–building relationships with people. They care about every person who walks into their church, and those individuals become part of their family. It is a small church with a tiny budget, but they perform many acts of generosity.

“‘Members of the church reach out to the disabled in the community. Not only do they encourage them to come to our church, they bring them there! They don’t just have disabled people in the church, they care for them, they keep up with their needs, and when they are having difficulties, they help out as much as they can.’”

Upon receiving the honor for her church, Wabash pastor Kay Gaier said, “I can’t imagine a more wonderful award than one for a place where everyone is welcome and able to worship.”

“We are grateful for the many good things these and other churches are doing to reach out to people with disabilities,” Shively said. “We hope that these wonderful examples will inspire others to do likewise in their own congregations.”

— Randy Miller is editor of “Messenger” magazine