Handicapped Heartbreak

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Over 20 years ago, a wonderful woman was brought to church by the missionaries. During the preceding weeks, they had taught her the discussions.  She was single, in her upper 40’s, an overall delight of a person, and . . . excited about the restored gospel.  One characteristic set her apart from all other members of the congregation.  She was wheelchair bound.

A baptismal date was scheduled for the next Saturday.  The bishop was so happy to see such a quality person coming into his Ward.  Her wheelchair was brought to the edge of the font stairs.  Four Elders lifted and gently carried her down into the water.  A beautiful and sacred ordinance was performed in a crowded and joy filled font.

One day later, the new convert was warmly welcomed into the ward, both from the pulpit and by the membership.  One week later, the bishop was happy to hear that the new member wanted to meet with him.  Unfortunately, she informed him that this would be her last Sunday at church.  Being in meetings for any length of time was too uncomfortable.  There were no handicap equipped bathrooms!!!  An embarrassing accident was all too likely.  This sweet woman was going to be denied all the benefits of church attendance because of deficiencies in the building’s toilet facilities.  In effect, a person who was different from all others in the congregation was being excluded from church blessings.  The bishop was heartbroken.

The existence of this problem was already known to the bishop.  It just hadn’t directly touched him yet. One of the other wards in the building had a member with limited control of legs or arms.  From time-to-time, discussions were had about bathroom difficulties.  But, no action had been initiated to acquire handicap accessible facilities.

Now, that a new convert had been lost, the bishop sprang into action.  His mission was to secure a bathroom makeover, ASAP.  He contacted the Stake President, who seemed sympathetic. The high councilman over meetinghouse remodeling was assigned the task.  Then, organizational red tape set in.  Eight months passed.  Calls were made, letters exchanged, discussions had, but no action. Finally, the bishop, in frustration and with a bit of anger, decided to take matters into his own hands.  He was not going to watch another handicapped member slip away because of a potential bodily function mishap.

A bid was obtained to retrofit one of the building’s bathrooms.  $16,000.  Of course, this was way out of the budget bounds allotted by Salt Lake City. At the time, fundraising was only permitted for youth camps. This did not deter the bishop’s plans.

He called the construction department at church headquarters. With one of the head architects on the phone, the bishop made the following statement. “We have no handicap equipped bathrooms.  I recently lost a new wheelchair bound convert because of this. In the other ward, there is a member who has limited use of his arms and legs. Bathroom visits for him are difficult and dangerous.  Over the past 8 months, I’ve tried to get the needed remodel done through the proper stake channels.  Nothing is on the horizon.  I’m not calling to ask permission. Rather, I’m calling to inform you of my plans.  The build out is going to cost $16,000.  Two weeks from today, I’m going to start a fundraising campaign.  I thought you would like to know.”

Less than two weeks later, a church architect crossed the same chapel threshold that the wonderful wheelchair woman was never to cross again. In three months, construction was completed with funds, design, and support from Salt Lake.  But, it was too late. The convert, from 12 months prior, was not to return.

Fast forward twenty years. All the LDS churches now have handicap stalls.

However, there are still people in the church who are in a situation that sets them apart from all other members of the congregation.  As a result, they are excluded from the blessings that can be found in the church.  This situation did not exist until November of last year.  Like the bishop of years ago, I feel heartbroken.

Oh, how I wish that I could just call the church construction department, describe the situation of members leaving, and then have a ‘policy’ architect quickly cross the threshold of my chapel.  And . . . do it before more of my friends depart, never to cross the chapel threshold again.

15 thoughts on “Handicapped Heartbreak

  1. This reminds me of the childhood saying, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

    We all know that saying is not true And that words can be as hurtful -if nor more so than “sticks & stones.”

    I am afraid the “policy architects” are oblivious to their un-Christ-like words & policies.

    If Christ were here today, He would be turning over the money changers tables in righteous indignation in His temples and chapels!

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  2. Too many places are unaccessable to those with handicaps. In the public arena, there are laws that govern what is needed. Too often, that is not true in older, private buildings.
    I thank that bishop for doing what his calling required in caring for the temporal needs of his congregation, and shaking up a group of people that needed it. I hope that the young lady has found that others did care about her, and her spiritual being. She is a daughter of Heavenly Father.

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    1. What a nice sentiment. I’m sure her Heavenly Father has watched out for her spiritual welfare. “Young lady.” Funny how perspectives change. Once, someone in their late 40’s was old. Now, they’re super young.

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  3. Very thought provoking post. As usual. Most people don’t ponder nearly has thoroughly as you do!!

    Obviously this is a sensitive and real issue for many children, members, and non-members. Many people I know inside the church and out are struggling with this decision. There are similar policies in the church for the children of polygamous families. Obviously with the passing of legislation that changed the way same-sex marriage is viewed under the law – the church had to respond.

    “…the church’s policy was that same-sex marriage might require discipline and it was usually left up to local leaders. Now that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country, the church decided to identify those in a same-sex marriage as apostates, or people who renounce their faith.”

    The church has been consistent in regards to policies for children living in households that are living in “apostasy.” (not my words) These households may be loving, caring, and good in every way imaginable to most of the world. We may believe many of these people live “better” lives than many church members do. Especially since these individuals are often our friends, family, or acquaintances that we know and trust. This decision is very personal to many people. It’s crazy to think these children are being punished for their parents’ sins.

    I imagine making rules like these breaks the hearts of the prophets and apostles. I honestly feel their love each time they speak and that love is for all individuals, members and non-members. I am sure when Abraham was about to take the life of his son Isaac, his heart was broken. He probably didn’t understand it at all. God had commanded to not kill and now he wants a prophet to kill his innocent son? That’s super crazy. In the Book of Mormon, when women and children were getting thrown into fires many people probably questioned God and the prophets. Many probably cursed them and wondered why God allow such horrible things to happen to innocent children. If something like that happened today to people I personally knew I would go crazy. The wrath of my anger would be off the charts.

    Honestly, I am torn on many church issues but I know the prophets and apostles know more than I do. I trust them. A large part of my testimony is built on theirs. If I didn’t have a testimony and if I weren’t a member of the church I think my opinion on these issues would be very different. However, it takes a lot of faith and often times I think my faith isn’t strong enough. To the world, faith is akin to stupid people doing stupid things because of the stupid traditions of their religious books. However – to you and I – I think faith means a whole lot more.

    I appreciate you bringing these issues out into the open. Many members are struggling with them. No matter what happens with these policies – it all comes down to our faith in God’s plan and the gift of the atonement.

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    1. Wow, Austin, you should start a blog! Thanks for your well thought out comments. I have more to say on this issue in coming blog posts. Your comments have given me some good ideas and information. And thanks for reading Uncle Sam’s blog. I’m brand new at this. So, really don’t know quite what I’m doing. All my best to you and Nicole. Please say hi to her for me.

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