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Two guys and a nudge from God makes St. Paul's UMC more accessible

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Jamestown, North Dakota, is a building all on one level. At first glance, it appears to be very handicap accessible.

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Eileen Dallman and Bernice Schauer using the newly modified pews at St. Paul's UMC. Photos courtesy of Rev. Jennifer McDonald.

"One of the distinguishing features of this facility in Jamestown is that it's all on one level," said Rev. Jennifer McDonald, St. Paul's UMC. "There are no steps to get into the building. There are no steps to get into any of the rooms. So, this building is probably the most accessible church facility in the whole town."

It is a typical sanctuary with pews. If you are in a wheelchair or a walker, you need to sit in the aisle or the back of the sanctuary in the overflow area.

"If there's any place for people with a wheelchair to sit, it's usually at the back or just in the aisle. thank Years ago, when one of the pews at the back of the overflow area got damaged by water, that pew was removed and replaced with chairs that could be moved. The church decided that's a place where people who need to use wheelchairs can sit," said Pastor Jennifer.

It went like that for many years. Then Al Aman and Floyd Schuaer, St. Paul's UMC members, decided they would change that.

"They have been discussing making the sanctuary handicap accessible for at least five years. Nobody ever did anything. Al and I decided to do what we thought should be done. We talked to Pastor Jennifer, and she agreed. Then we went to the trustees, and then they finally said,' OK.'"

One week, Al and Floyd shortened one of the pews. They let people try it out, and others look at how it fits—then shortened three more pews. People liked the change.

"The very first Sunday that they had modified the first pew. There were already people using it," said Pastor Jennifer.

Now, four pews in the sanctuary's main part are accessible. The accessible pews are evenly spaced in the front and towards the back of the sanctuary and on both sides of the church.

"We shortened pews up. We made it a little more handicap accessible," said Al. "They don't have to have their walkers and wheelchairs in the entryway or the aisle. They are not as self-conscious."

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Floyd Schauer, left, and Al Aman, right work on modifying the pews.

Floyd agrees that people with mobility issues using a wheelchair or walker should not feel self-conscious. His wife is one of those people. "A few people thought that handicapped people should be in the back or the overflow area because there was more space," said Floyd. "Now it's nice. Everyone is in the sanctuary. It is not a big change. The church's appearance is a little different, but people are comfortable. Al and I made the changes at zero cost to the church. Now that it is done, it looks like it was supposed to be there."

Aman and Schuaer finished the project and moved on to the area for the piano and organ. "We created space for the piano and organ, moving them back so you would see the people singing or performing," Al said. "Now the congregation can see the singers. The piano player can see the singers and hear the congregation. Everyone seems to like that."

The two are working on a few changes to the sound system. "We're working the sound system doing some changes, not big but minor," said Floyd. "In a month or two, we'll have that where we think it should be, which also helps. Al and I have fun doing it. We found with two of us, if we want something done, we do it. It's always good to have a partner in crime."

Modifying a few pews, moving the piano and organ, and tweaking the sound system are small things that make a significant impact. "I think it's such a good example of something simple that can be done to make your church more inviting, including people," said Floyd.

No matter how small, making changes can sometimes be met with resistance. But at St. Paul's UMC, it took two people and a nudge from God. "God led them to do this and created that stir in their soul," said Pastor Jennifer. "People who need to use a wheelchair or a walker feel welcomed. Rearranging a few pews lets them know that we value them and want them to be comfortably seated with their families—whatever part of the sanctuary they want to be seated."

 Learn more about the Disability Committee of The United Methodist Church
Epworth UMC receives Disability-Friendly and Accessible Church Badge 


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