A few days ago I stumbled across an advert for some free 1:1 yoga sessions, to support health and wellbeing. I applied. After all, my health team keep telling me I need to do something to get my breathing going again, and gentle exercise would be beneficial. There is a whole mental block around doing breathing exercises when I used to have the lung capacity to rival Godzilla, but now can barely blow out a tea light, so I need to find some way to approach this phase of my recovery journey which is new. Not linked to my musicianship. Not linked to my former life.
Anyway. I applied. The questions came back including one inquiring, ‘The sessions are in an upstairs space with no lift, will access be an issue for you?’ Erm, yes! I very politely wrote back and requested reasonable adjustments. Yet the reply came back none were available and (although it was not explicitly said) I wouldn’t be eligible for the session if I couldn’t access the space.
Discrimination is supposed to be illegal. Anyone responsible for prejudicial behaviour related to a protected characteristic could be held accountable in line with the Equality Act 2010. I choose my language deliberately, because in reality how many businesses/landlords have ever been taken to task because they don’t have accessible bathrooms? I can list a number of such places in my town alone. Cafes I know I can’t go to when using my mobility scooter. Local Authority/NHS funded support services which do excellent work, but I can’t access because there are multiple steps on the route to their suites.
What about in church settings? My closest church has a ramp to get in, but the gradient is so steep it is almost unusable, and the door at the top cannot be opened independently. So despite appearances it isn’t physically accessible at all. Yet, accessibility isn’t just about ramps and hearing loops, physical adjustments. We are body, mind and spirit after all.
My actual Church of England Parish Church is inaccessible to me because, as a church which adopts Resolution A and AEO (Alternative Episcopal Oversight), the leadership there will only accept the ministry of men. One assumes cisgender men, although I am willing to be corrected on that particular point. Therefore there is a glass ceiling waiting for me even if I, as a parishioner, should decide to enter into a process of discernment. I couldn’t do that and be supported in the parish where I live because the Church of England excuses itself from equality legislation. There we start to pick apart the huge issues in the otherwise very noble parochial system; what about the parish where the vicar is non-affirming of gay people, or the parish where the PCC have a whim not to support discernment of people over 40?
Equality legislation protects us all. It protects young women and potential child-bearers from not being able to get a job in case they might get pregnant and have a maternity leave. It protects biracial people from missed opportunities for not being ‘enough’ of either culture they belong to. Infrastructure designed with equality in mind is enriching to the entity and benefits all within it.
So why do faith groups still believe they should be exempt from proper scrutiny and accountability? There is enough theological discourse now to understand faith is about bringing people together in love, not casting out in divisions. Sadly, while the secular world still can’t enable me to go for meals with friends, attend school events in comfort or travel through London to visit family – and that is WITH legislation and accountability – I have minimal hope for institutional church.
I do like to be pleasantly surprised though …
Peace be with you.