I went to college in the Diocese of Missouri, and from orientation week to graduation, I was part of the most awesome campus ministry to ever awesome. We did all sorts of amazing things with liturgy (with the approval and encouragement of our Bishop) and music and it was generally four years of wonderful, life-changing fellowship and communion. Before Wednesday night services, our hardworking assistant chaplains & chaplains assembled a full-text booklet including the liturgy, the readings, the lyrics to the music, and some illustrations to populate the white space. (Don’t worry, we were very conscientious about recycling afterward.) When we celebrated the daily offices, we generally took them right out of the Book of Common Prayer. At other Episcopal services I attended, copies of the BCP & the hymnal could be found in each pew. The UCC church where I also worshiped (and helped lead the youth group) for a year also went the paper booklet route.
When I moved to Chicago, same deal. When I moved to New York, I found that some churches would reference page numbers in the BCP rather than reprint the text in the booklet, but that made sense to me, given that there were plenty of BCPs handy.
You know what makes no sense to me? Having no text copy of the liturgy or readings available. At all.
I have encountered this not once but twice since I moved to the West Coast. The first time, I didn’t think it was a big issue until I found myself so uncomfortable and disoriented in the middle of a lengthy service that I left and went home. The second time, I sent an email… only to find that the Grace Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Diocese of California, has no full-text copy of their Sunday service available.
You read it here first, friends.
Now, this email exchange is ongoing, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get a copy and maybe start some dialogue about this issue with the Cathedral in the near future. But my question is, why did this even happen in the first place? How can a Cathedral that is so well-known for its radical hospitality have issues meeting basic accessibility standards?
Radical hospitality means radical accessibility for everyone, regardless of impairment. Here’s some of my ideas for what any congregation can do – and honestly, having helped put together services during my time in campus ministry, I don’t think they’re all that hard. (These suggestions are geared toward Christian congregations, particularly those with a standard liturgy book available, but I invite you to extrapolate to other contexts.)
- If you’re not going to include readings or text that’s not responsory (like the Great Thanksgiving AKA Eucharistic Prayer), you need to not only provide citations, but also provide the places to find the stuff you’re citing. Which means you need to make a Bible available for readings and a BCP available for bits of the service you’ve taken out of the booklet.
- If you don’t have those things available… you’ve got to put them in the service booklet. I don’t care if you’re concerned about wasting paper. I don’t care if you don’t know of anyone in your congregation who might need the text available. Being a welcoming congregation means not only serving those who are currently members, but reaching out to those to come. Being a welcoming congregation means making worship accessible to everyone without forcing anyone to disclose their disability status. That is an incredibly difficult and fraught issue for many, especially those whose disabilities do not have obvious outward signs.
- You know what would be even more helpful? Putting the full text, including readings, online. Make your site accessible to people using screenreaders and browsing from mobile devices. Make it available as a download for e-readers. Really want to save paper? You need to go digital. (That said, digital is a supplement but not a replacement for paper. Not everyone has access to a computer or mobile reading device.)
- I see recordings of sermons online all the time. No text provided by the speaker? Crowdsource transcription. Accessibility is and should be a communal effort.
- The BCP has a Braille edition. Do you have that available? Have you considered other ways to make your service more accessible to people with visual impairments?
This has been a service bulletin from your friendly but slightly incensed neighbor (they don’t call me the thurible of great justice for nothing). That is all.
Erin K. BartuskaI'm a writer, artist, and feminist-of-all-trades living in San Francisco. My passions include baking, social justice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and God.
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