Thursday, March 3, 2016

UCC Parker Hilltop Achieves National A2A Designation

There's a reason why Rev. Tracey Dawson of UCC Parker Hilltop is smiling: On January 11, her church became just the fourth in the UCC to achieve the A2A Designation. (It's worth noting that First Congregational UCC of Boulder is one of the four other A2A churches, making the Rocky Mountain Conference a leader in Accessibility and Inclusion.) 

Rev. Dawson stands at the wide double-doors to the church's sanctuary.

What is A2A, exactly? From the UCC Disabilities Ministries website

A2A stands for “Accessible to All." A2A is the terminology used within the United Church to refer to congregations that have completed the Accessible to All process and thereby made the commitment to be physically and attitudinally welcoming of people with disabilities.

Tracey will be the first to tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

​Their story of Radical Inclusion began in 2012, even before Tracey's tenure there. When member Tom Lewis passed away, he left a generous gift to the church, with the stipulation that it be used to improve the church building. Two years, a new pastor, and a reunited congregation later, they began seriously looking at all the ways in which the church needed to be updated to be fully accessible. Their inquiries were solution-focused. "We didn't ask whose fault it was. Instead, we asked what was missing," Tracey says. 

The most obvious gaps in accessibility had to do with physical accessibility. Church entrances, bathrooms, staircases, and sanctuary aisles were all redone, and large-print bibles were purchased to accompany existing headsets for the hard of hearing and removable pews for those in wheelchairs. 

But that was just one facet of making the church truly accessible. In our conversation, Tracey pointed out that there are several groups who are not always accommodated at church, even though we preach their inclusion in our sermons. Children with special needs (some of whom are nonverbal), those suffering dementia, those with severe food allergies; we are just now beginning to understand what it takes to make them feel fully welcome. 

Tracey also highlighted another important fact for any other church that wishes to achieve the A2A designation: It costs money, sure, but it's 99% intention. As UCC Disabilities Ministries points out: "The A2A process allows for churches to complete the A2A process, even if they are not fully physically accessible provided they have identified changes and created a plan to address those accessibility issues within the coming five years." 

Since UCC Parker Hilltop began their A2A journey, the landscape of their church community has changed rapidly. People who had stopped coming years ago have now returned. Members are more excited about inviting friends to church. The church has a transportation program that ensures everyone can make it Sunday morning. And while it's due to much more than their commitment to accessibility, their membership has increased significantly over the last two years. 

Tracey emphasizes that the moral of the story isn't just that their church is awesome: It's that, with some passion and elbow grease, every church in the RMC (and UCC) can become A2A. While it's flattering to be an early adopter of A2A, they want everyone to join the club. 

To this end, UCC Parker Hilltop is offering a special Access Sunday worship on October 9, 2016. The event is open to everyone, and will feature guest speakers and information on how churches can become A2A designated. 

"Being A2A or Christian isn't a designation; it's a verb," Tracey says. "We are removing the conditions to the phrase 'You are Welcome Here'." 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Accessible to All—Inclusive of All

The following is a guest blog by Faith Vidrine, member at Wash Park UCC, with an introduction by Nadyne Guzmán, PhD, Communications Coordinator for the RMC's Conference Inclusion Team. 

Dr. Nadyne Guzmán

Washington Park UCC in Denver has worked for several years to become a designated A2A Congregation. One member of the A2A Team is Faith Vidrine, who is also a member of the choir, on the Program Ministry Team, and a constant presence in Sunday Celebration. One of Faith’s goals is to help others with disabilities discover what it’s like to be part of community, so she has chosen to share this story with the Rocky Mountain Conference.

Many Families Support Us
Faith Vidrine

My name is Faith Vidrine and I have a disability. I’m lucky because I have a family that supports me all the time. My family is my mom and my dad, my older sister, my brother, and my younger sister. They always watch out for me. I know they are always there to help me, even when life gets hard. I have learned that when they kid me or tease me it means they love me very much.

Some people don’t have a family like mine. But I’ve learned that there are other families around that can help too. One kind of family is friends. I have a best friend named Jenny and she has a great family who I love dearly. They feel like my family, too. They always support me and love me for who I am. I have other friends, too—and their families are also wonderful. When I am with them I feel like part of their families.

I also have a group of friends called the Wayfaring Band. We travel together, and when I travel with them I feel like I can make my dreams come true. They felt like a family to me the very first time I traveled with them because one of the boys opened up his arms to me at the beginning and said “You are officially one of us now.” And everyone else was nice to me too. 

When we are traveling I feel like I never want the trip to end because it is so much fun seeing new places and sharing with my friends. All of us in the Wayfaring Band have different kinds of disabilities and we help each other out as we travel together. Being part of the Wayfaring Band means we get to be who we are and we know what to do.

We make sure everyone is safe and we are all together like one big family. I want to be the kind of person who does things right and knows what’s safe for me and for my friends. And being with the Wayfaring Band has helped me change from being nervous and afraid to being confident wherever I go. I have one friend who was very inspiring to me and gave me good advice. I felt like I could trust him and felt safe with him. He saw that I was nervous and he said he knew I was going to be okay. And when I learned how to engage with people, he noticed and told me I was doing a good job. That felt so cool!

I have learned we can always belong where we are. Different kinds of families help me feel like I belong. And I know I am the kind of friend who others can lean on. I am there for my friends the way they are there for me. I have a provider that I admire and I want to be just like her.

I know other people with disabilities can find families like these, even if they don’t have a family of their own. That’s what I want for everyone—to learn how to find the kind of love and support I have found by being brave and reaching out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

UCC/DOC Youth are Radically Connected!

The following is a guest-blog from Robbie Carlson, Director of Children & Youth Ministries at First Congregational UCC, Loveland.

Last September, First Christian Church of Loveland (a Disciples of Christ church just a few blocks up the road from First Congregational UCC in Loveland) was in the process of discerning the next chapter of youth ministry in their congregation. After some intentional conversation and the movement of the Holy Spirit, the youth groups of First Christian DOC and First Congregational UCC combined to form a joint Youth Fellowship!

This merger of youth groups then sparked the conversation of what other opportunities could be offered for the wider UCC/DOC community along the front range. Out of this conversation came the idea to host large-group events for UCC and Disciples youth at various locations throughout the year (particularly on 5th Sundays).   

In November and December of 2015, middle- and high-school youth from DoC and UCC churches all over the front range gathered for combined, large-group activities to build friendships and awareness of our wider church communities. Our first event was held at the Loveland Laser Tag Fun Center, where nearly 40 youth gathered from First Congregational UCC in Loveland, First Christian DoC in Loveland, First Congregational UCC in Longmont, Faith UCC in Windsor, and First Congregational UCC in Boulder.  

Our second event was a youth hangout night and dinner at the famed Casa Bonita restaurant in Lakewood, bringing together youth from Loveland, Boulder, Lakewood, and Ft. Collins.  

We are thrilled at the response from these gatherings, and look forward to future events where we can also incorporate elements of team building, service, and mission.   

If you are interested in joining and/or being a part of the conversation, please let Robbie and Eli know!

Eli McCutchen—Director of Youth Ministries, First Congregational UCC, Boulder 

Robbie Carlson—Director of Children & Youth Ministries, First Congregational UCC, Loveland