a summer of construction makes me reflect on inclusivity

constructionJust in case you didn’t know, the street in front of our church has been torn up this summer. This has made it difficult for people to get into our building but, of course, as everyone comments, “it will be worth it in the end”. I have enjoyed watching the people who watch the construction. There is something fascinating about big equipment that can pulverize rock and move a ton of earth. I have sympathized with the workers who toil in the hot sun and who have slipped into the church once in a while to cool down. And I have been reminded that the infrastructure that goes into making a modern town is amazing. Engineers and town planners spend ages considering the right ways to promote pedestrian traffic, to plan parking, and to make it easier for people with mobility issues to get around. This week the sidewalks were poured and they are remarkably different from the old. They are sloped and have anti slip pads at each corner.

I do not remember seeing a wheelchair when I was a child. Certainly it would have been impossible to navigate the city streets in one. Today electric chairs are common place in the down town and churches like our own take it for granted that we should do what we can to make our building more accessible. To that end we will be adding power door assists this year and the town will be levelling the curb along Quarry Ave to make access easier.

I do not remember seeing a wheelchair when I was a child but then again I do not remember seeing much diversity at all back then. I think the first movement I was aware of for greater inclusion was when the church started to argue that children should be included in communion. The next issue of inclusion that caught my attention was around gender equality and language. We started changing the language of hymns and that set off quite a furor. Soon other issues emerged – economic, race, orientation, mental ability. I remember a woman in Kenora who lived in substantial poverty and who was also very wise. She was elected to our church board and immediately became an advocate for the disenfranchised. Any event we planned had to build in ways to include those who could not afford to participate in the old ways. She taught me much.

In the church we have two visions that at times seem contradictory. We have one in which we imagine a world united in faith, united under Christ. That makes us think that uniformity is beautiful and God given. But we also have images of all nations gathering in their uniqueness. We have Pentecost in which the church was taught to speak many languages instead of having the people learn one. This makes us think that diversity is beautiful and divinely blessed. Certainly the uniformity of my childhood led to some being empowered while many were hidden. It is a great thing that many have come out of hiding and are finding their place.

Obviously much is left to be done. We have hardly created a level playing field but we have learned to look for the inequalities with a more critical eye.

So… God bless construction. It shows that God can speak through any and everything in life. Sloped sidewalks can remind us of power imbalances and the spirit’s call to grow in justice. Amen.