An essay donated by Tina Heron
"You can’t be disabled & Christian, unless you
surrender to Discrimination & Victimization"
A personal experience
I became a wheelchair user 14 years ago. I have a
congenital condition called Spastic Diplegia it is part of the cerebral palsy
group of conditions and its affect on me means that I have extreme difficulty in
walking although I can walk short distances once I leave the confines of my home
I use a wheelchair. The more I walk stand or do any physical activity the more
pain I experience. To have any sort of life I have to follow a pain management
I was brought up in a Christian environment and
made a personal commitment to the Christian faith when I was 13 years of age.
Although Spastic Diplegia is a congenital
condition its affect on me were minimal until I gave birth to my son. It was
then that the nerve damage in my spine became evident and walking caused me
pain. I progressed from walking with a walking stick to a walking with crutches
and by the time four years have passed began using a wheelchair. My husband has
had three heart attacks so his health means that he is not able to assist me by
pushing my wheelchair and there are many occasions when he is not fit enough to
accompany me when I go out.
I have decided to tell My Story in this form and
send it over the Internet to Christian sites and organizations because it is my
wish that my story will act as a warning to Christians around the world. PLEASE
PLEASE PASS IT ON. Practice inclusive love as Jesus loved.
Treat everyone as if they were an angel in disguise. Remember that your actions
can make or break a person’s faith.
Coming to terms with disability as a Christian is
not easy and my journey in this is not one for sharing here but eventually I got
to the point of being able to proclaim the “I am a disabled Christian and
disability is acceptable in the eyes of God. If you with to receive a meditation
on this you can email me direct on
When my son was born we had attended a local
Anglican church but as my walking and deteriorated we became unable to attend
and the church just forgot about us. Four years passed and I finally got my
first wheelchair and I’ve learned to drive. For the next six years we attended
another Anglican church during our time there I fought to improve the disabled
access to the building and to have a wheelchair access toilets installed. There
were so many occasions when I could not get parked because church members would
not leave onsite parking for those that needed it. I even tried talking to the
congregation during one service but it made no difference. We finally left when
it was clear that the church had no intention of bringing the disabled access up
to a reasonable standard. I felt strongly that God was telling us not to accept
second best but to go to a church that had wheelchair access. So we joined the
Methodist circuit in a Barnsley south Yorkshire in the UK.
It soon became clear that the philosophy of
Methodism was inclusive and I was encouraged by the possibilities. I had longed
for the opportunity to study theology and the preacher’s course enabled me to
fulfill this longing. I spent several months visiting all the churches in my area
and made a list of those whose access was good and where I would be able to
preach. From then on I only attended churches where the building was built with
Everything started well but I began to experience
access problems -- not with the buildings but with procedures. I used my knowledge
and skills to try to affect change. At one church I was repeatedly locked into
the worship area because a steward locked one half of the double doors behind
me. On one occasion I literally brought a service to a standstill because I
could not get out to use the toilet. At another church every time I approached
the building I could not get in because one side of the double doors was locked.
This church was on two levels if I could not get parked on the top level access
on the lower level was via a fire exit door that was never manned and did not
have a door bell. On one dark night I had to approach a stranger on the street
to go and find someone to let me in. All the problems I experienced had simple
solutions but no would listen. These small barriers to access became mountains
that I had to climb every time I attended church. I spoke to so many people to
try to get things changed.
I suggested training. I spoke about the churches need
to comply with the Disability Discrimination act. I spoke to ministers, lay
workers, my tutor, church stewards and welcomers many of these people were on
their church council but not one would put it on the agenda. I was labeled as a
trouble maker. Each time I spoke to someone I could see that they were not
listening. Over a period of 6 years no would take any notice or offer me any
help. I felt like a waste of space. Where was God in all this because no matter
how I prayed nothing changed. I found it more and more difficult to cope and
began to stay at home instead of going to church. Then over a period of 6 weeks
I was locked out of three meetings. I was furious when I left my last church I
had vowed that I would never be locked out again.
This time I took drastic action and went to see
the circuit superintendent. This so called man of God would not help. Hhe said
"You credit me with more power that I have." He would not call a meeting of the
ministers. He would not deal with the access problems in his own church. He would not tell me where to go for help. He blocked all my suggestions and
refused to allow me to speak to the church.
To the best of my knowledge and know-how I had followed scripture in trying
to resolve this conflict. I climbed the hierarchical ladder and got to the top.
So what next?
I could just climb back into my hole and put up
with this injustice and discrimination. I could continue to feel like a waste of
space and in valid in the eyes of the church or I could take a stand for
I could not continue the way things were it was
just too difficult so I took a stand for justice and filed proceedings under the
Disability Discrimination Act.
This finally made the church sit up and listen and
to cut a long process short we settled out of court. My settlement was a minimum
access contract and £3000 compensation. Now I could get on with my church life.
The next week I returned to church. The superintendent (Who incidentally was
also my minister) approached me and said “I have been instructed by legal
counsel not to speak to you” I tried 5 times for reconciliation but it my
requests were ignored.
Was the cost to high? Yes defiantly! It Cost the
church around £26.000 to defend this case. The personal cost for me has been my
faith I will leave you to decide who paid more risked more lost more.
Would I do it again? Yes defiantly. It just
became too difficult to dealt with the physical barriers and the judgmental
attitudes every week.
Do I feel guilty – No I had to try everything to
protect my right to access worship.
How does God feel? Ask him yourself. We don’t talk
Where is God in this? Is it right that disabled
people should be denied access to worship? Is it right that an individual should
be pressured to legal action because churches refuse to comply with the
Disability Discrimination Act? How could I attend church if my minister refused
to speak to me, how could I receive communion from this man.
So I have left the
church and given up my faith. It is too difficult to start again somewhere else
with the same access issues. This experience has destroyed my faith I will never
enter a church again nor will my husband and son.
What is the point of the Christian faith when
those that say they believe don’t follow the teaching of scripture? Some of you
may think that my story is a rare occurrence but I tell you it is not. One of my
friend who is also a wheelchair user has been going to the same church for 30
years and they still have not seen fit to install a disabled toilet. I have
another friend who could only access her church via the vestry. She stopped going
when the minister complained about having to move furniture to ease the passage
into the church. I have another friend who is still waiting for access to her
Christian love Must find a solution to church
access issues because the human cost of not complying with the Disability
Discrimination Act is spiritual death.
By the way, for those of you who have suggestions
of what I should have/could have done: don’t pass them this way. I am
learning to move on without my faith. Use them to benefit your own church. Don’t
allow a disabled person to be discriminated against or victimized. We are all
equal in Gods eyes. At least that is was I used to believe!!!
Originally posted: 2008-FEB-11
Latest update: 2008-FEB-11
Author: Tina Heron