DISABILITY and accessibility should trump heritage, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested on Friday.
Archbishop Justin Welby said that he would “like legislation put through Parliament that put disabilities above heritage”, in order to improve accessibility.
He was speaking at a conference on disability and the C of E, hosted at Lambeth Palace.
Delegates from across the country discussed the issues that disabled people face in the Church, from access to attitudes. Together they explored ways that disabled people could be more included and valued.
The conference coincided with the publication of a report called More than Welcome by Livability, which aims to support churches in creating a place of welcome, inclusion, and participation with disabled people.
Among the speakers were the Revd Haydon Spenceley, Katie Tupling, and Zoe Heming, who are priests and also disabled (Features, 6 July).
Mrs Heming, who is Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew’s, Church Aston, and an adviser on disability in the diocese of Lichfield, said that an issue that disabled people face is that “Anglican worship is so ordered”, and that more needs to be done to help the Church’s ageing congregation.
Mr Spenceley, Team Rector of Emmanuel, Northampton, said: “I hope that there is a sense that our Church is a place that anyone can come to, but more than that, that anybody can take part at every level of the organisation, and every kind of ministry that we operate, whether it’s what is perceived as the least to what its perceived as the greatest.”
The Archeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers, said in a video: “The Church needs to be proactive, seeking people who are not like ourselves.”
Professor John Swinton, Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at Aberdeen University, gave two short lectures on theology and disability.
On the matter of human rights, Professor Swinton said that they alone do not guarantee belonging for disabled people.
He said: “We need another dimension; a dimension that the church brings to the conversation that may not be available within standard approaches to disability that focus only on issues around justice and social inclusion.”
Speaking about the balance between accessibility and heritage, the Archbishop of Canterbury told an anecdote from when he was Subdean at Coventry Cathedral. Plans to put in a ramp to allow access for all to a chapel were blocked for heritage reasons.
Even though Coventry Cathedral was built in the 1950s, accessibility was not thought of when it was planned, and it was only later that it was taken seriously.
Archbishop Welby also told the conference: “When we look at inclusion, the people that get overlooked are the people with disabilities.”
He pledged to “push harder” for the learning community, and for “proper representation” for disabled candidates in the list for a vacant see.
Speaking about what the Church needs to do to help people with disability, and become more inclusive, he said: “I think that the Church needs to be aware, be biblical, so that we know that this is a God-given imperative, not just a nice thing to do.
“We need to be brave, so that we talk to people and listen to people with disabilities; and be radical, so that we look at what would make a real difference. So that with all that attitudinal change, there’ll be a culture change.”
The Archbishop continued: “I’m really hoping that out of today, and people mixing up and talking to each other, that it will trigger new possibilities that people hadn’t thought of. I think: do that at every point in the Church, and it will be great.”
When asked about disability as an issue, he said: “I think it’s hugely important, I’m trying not to exaggerate but be reasonable about it.
“I think in the same way as I feel that we’re not doing well enough as a Church, and I’ve not contributed sufficiently, unless we improve very significantly what we do with UKME people, and I would say exactly the same about people with disabilities. I think it’s an equivalently important issue.”
A set of online resources to help all people, including those with different kinds of disabilites, to complete daily prayer has been released by Disability and Jesus.