Ray Heideman, lead usher at First Baptist Church, helps long-time member Phyllis Junop as she comes up the stairs on the inaugural use of the lift chair.
When the building of First Baptist Church in Pembroke was envisioned by its founders back in 1873, they probably weren’t thinking about how ministry would be done in the 21st century.Like many of the churches built over 100 years ago, it was decided that stairs would be incorporated in the design – maybe it was to give everyone their own “Mount Sinai” experience when they came to church. However, in 2018, with the average life expectancy much longer than in those early years, those stairs had become an obstacle to regular attenders and visitors alike.Churches need to be accessible and it’s something that the people at First Baptist realized 20 years ago. The first step was to install an external ramp on the side of the building for walkers and wheelchairs. While it has served to make services accessible, during the winter months it isn’t very practical or safe. In addition, it didn’t allow access to the downstairs meeting hall.Members then looked at a costly construction option of installing an enclosed elevator; given limited government funding, and the fact that the use of the elevator is low compared to other public spaces, it was decided to explore a more cost-benefit effective option, vis-a-vis church stewardship.The popularity of in home chair lifts has increased significantly over recent years as seniors seek to stay in their homes longer. The construction and safety factors have also improved, and after exploring several quotes and options, it was decided that two commercial stair chair lifts would fulfill the vision of making the church fully accessible. And with respect to stewardship, the good news is that the congregation, family and friends were able to raise the money required and install the apparatus, debt free.“It was important to make our whole church accessible,” Rev. Wayne Sollows said. “It’s important if we’re going to serve the community at large. It benefits the present members and friends of the church, but it will allow new people – who may have mobility issues – to attend, be it for a Sunday service, a funeral of a friend, a music night or other community event.”The congregation and supporters gathered on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018 for a service of prayer and dedication for their new access. Judy St. Cyr, the chairwoman of the board of management, read aloud the inscription of the plaque that included the names of those for whom memorial donations were made.“We’re blessed to be able to make our building accessible to the whole community,” Sollows said. “It means we can invite and welcome all people as they come – in keeping with the vision of our founders in 1873 – and continue to offer Good News to those looking for a church home or community in which to belong.”