Congregation lends a helping stand
A simple piece of wood is changing the way Maurice Webster worships.
“This little wooden bookstand is the greatest thing that ever happened for a one-armed guy, or for anyone,” Webster said. “You don’t feel like someone pushed out in the hallway. You feel like you’re a part of something special.”
The portable bookstand recently made its debut at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Casper, Wyo.
The church is unique in the nation. It is one of a handful of ELCA congregations located directly on the campus of a major long-term care facility. While many nursing homes have meditation rooms with seating for a few residents, Good Shepherd’s sanctuary is on the northwest corner of Shepherd of the Valley Care Center, a facility of the ELCA. Residents can enter the church sanctuary through a climate-controlled corridor that is accessible to wheelchairs and walkers.
Webster is one of those residents.
“I feel like I’m part of a family,” he said. “It’s great. I can put my bulletin and hymnal on the bookstand, and then participate and become part of the worship.”
The portable bookstand was built by Larry Erdman, a Good Shepherd councilman who oversees church property and maintenance, with design help from Jim Farmer, another church member. The 12-inch (30 cm) by 17-inch (43 cm) shelf clips over the back of a pew. They have parts for two more shelves and intend to refine their next design.
“We have people in wheelchairs, but even those who are not in wheelchairs can clip a stand on the pew in front of them,” Erdman said. “It can be used by anyone.”
A devoted Catholic and member of St. Anthony’s parish, Webster, known as “Bill” to his fellow residents, is among many who have come to worship services at Good Shepherd from diverse religious backgrounds, including Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist and Mormon.
The 61-year-old Casper resident is a former dispatcher for a power company. He was born without his lower left arm. Now he can turn pages more quickly and easily, since he no longer has to juggle a bulletin, Bible and worship book in his lap or with one hand.
The Rev. Marvin Skogen, ELCA chaplain at the care center, said the bookstand had an immediate impact on Webster, and that eventually affected the entire congregation.
“It made Bill’s day,” Skogen said. “When his priest comes to visit, Bill invites the priest to come and see the bookstand. Having this greater accessibility to a hymnal, bulletin and Bible means an enriched worship experience for Bill, and it enriches all of our fellowship.”
Accessibility for anyone who enters the sanctuary of Good Shepherd is a major ministry emphasis, according to the Rev. Jack Damien, who began serving as pastor on Easter Sunday in 2010. The church has not only installed accessible doors, restrooms and tables in its building, but also practices a welcoming spirit.
“We believe God has a big embrace,” Damien said. “We embrace our members and guests with a warm atmosphere, lively singing and lots of greetings. We can hardly stop shaking hands after the prayers of the church. Jesus wants our community to be a welcoming family in every way we can, and we want that too.
“As Americans age and come to grips with increasing limitations,” Damien added, citing data from the 2000 U.S. Census, “the church needs to be more aware than ever of the contributions of older members and its sacred responsibility toward all people with disabilities.”
In the 2000 census, people with disabilities were defined in a broad category as those who have difficulty performing certain functions, such as seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs or lifting. It also included those having difficulty with tasks of daily living or with certain social roles, such as doing schoolwork for children or working at a job or around the house.
According to the data, those people age 5 or older with disabilities comprise about 20 percent of the U.S. population, or currently about 60 million people. The percentage of people with disabilities among those over 50 is much higher: about 53 percent.
The ELCA offers a resource for a church access audit. “How Accessible is our Worship Space?” is available by calling the ELCA Resource Information Center at 800-638-3522.