You will be hearing in the news this week about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Locally, there will be a celebration Friday, July 17 at Capitol Park in Boise. Our own Richard Pimentel will be one of the featured speakers. If you’ve seen his movie, “Music Within”, you know he played a major role in the passage of this landmark legislation.
In 1990, when the ADA was passed, First United Methodist Church in Nampa was about as inaccessible to people with disabilities (and people of advanced age) as one could imagine. Typical of many churches built in that era, it had multiple levels, many steps, and restrooms no one in a wheelchair could possibly use. The law did not require us to change our building, but this church chose to leave that building (the big sandstone building still standing at 404 12th Street South, across the street from the Salvation Army and now used as a campus of Christian Faith Center) and build something new on one level and fully accessible to all. Years later, Richard and Debbie Pimentel and family found us and have been such a blessing to our church.
Part of this church’s ministry recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. We call our Sunday evening worship service “Simply Worship”. About half the attenders arrive in wheelchairs. Those who are ambulatory live with disabilities severe enough that they are unable to live independently. Their caregivers attend with them. I am proud to be pastor of a church that not only has a building that is accessible to all but also has a heart for all people, especially those who need a little extra TLC.
When it comes down to it, do any of you know anyone who is not living with some disability? I could give you a long list of mine. We’re all broken, we’re all flawed, we’re all needy, we’re all works in progress. We all need all the TLC we can get. And that’s really what church is all about.
As I review the history of the ADA, I am reminded that churches were among its most vocal opponents. They feared the costs they would be forced to incur to bring their ancient buildings up to the new standards. The law was passed with accommodations to alleviate those fears. And churches that continue to be relevant today have figured out ways to become accessible to all, whether required by law or not.
As I spoke with Richard this morning, he told me the current nomenclature is “universal access”. Universal means everyone. Not just those with obvious disabilities, but the rest of us too whose disabilities may be less obvious.