Churches in Britain are organising celebrations and activities in the run-up to the London Paralympic Games, which take place after the Olympics, but critics are also wondering whether churches will be inspired to improve their own facilities for the disabled - writes Jo Siedlecka.
The Paralympics -- sports competitions for athletes with a range of disabilities -- will take place from 29 August to 9 September 2012, two weeks following the Olympics.
"There is a sharp contrast between the facilities provided for this … event and those available in most churches … We are told that there between 10 and 18 per cent of people are disabled - but we don"t see that number in our congregations," said Tim Wood, CEO of Through the Roof, an ecumenical charity which campaigns for the inclusion of disabled people in faith communities.
In spite of years of campaigning and changes to legislation that in theory require public buildings to have accommodations such as wheelchair ramps and designated parking spaces, more than half the churches in the UK still lack such features.
"St Paul spoke about people running in a race to win medals that don't last. Our churches offer something so much more. I hope the legacy of the Paralympics is that we welcome many more disabled people into our faith communities," Wood said.
More Than Gold, the agency advising all faiths on how to make the most of the Games, has published a check list for parishes highlighting what's needed and offering lists of a list of useful contacts and resources from agencies specialising in working with people who are disabled.
A DVD designed for a one-hour church service has been produced by (Baptist group) BMS World Mission. It celebrates the faith and excellence of paralympians while addressing issues of global injustice and promoting inclusion of disabled people.
People with disabilities have been running alongside able bodied runners in the Olympic Torch Run across the UK.
Guildford Anglican Cathedral in Surrey is holding an exhibition of work by artists from the Aylesbury Disability Arts Forum during the Paralympics.
St Joseph's Pastoral Centre, which serves families with learning difficulties in North London, has already held its own own "mini-Olympics" and is rehearsing a drama, mime and movement performance called "The Olympic Flame" which they will perform during the Games.
A spokeswoman for St Joseph's noted that society also needs to improve access. "The disabled facilities at the Olympics are really excellent -- but people in wheelchairs still have to get there. They don't all have cars. Out of the 252 [London Underground] stations, only 62 are step-free."
"The Olympic movement has fully embraced those with disabilities. It's time for churches to get serious about doing the same. It is time for churches to make disabled people more welcome and more able to contribute their God-given gifts," said More Than Gold CEO David Willson.
At least the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral has improved a very important facility -- its bathrooms. Until last April, the only public facility in the century-old building was accessible via a narrow spiral staircase. A block of washrooms are now fully-accessible and built with special handmade bricks and tiles to match the cathedral.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]