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'."