Categories
Communications

Addressing access challenges

The access and sensory challenges posed by church buildings are significant, especially in the Church of England. An approach including nationally endorsed generic fabric changes by architectural period; requiring churches seeking to make fabric changes to present comprehensive access development roadmaps; and mandating consideration of community need in regard to hygiene related proposals.


Nationally endorsed generic changes by architectural period

The Church of England’s built estate is sufficiently large that there are few truly ‘unique’ examples or architecture from a given period. That is not to say, of course that there are no uniquely ‘valuable’ buildings

The Church Buildings Council or some other suitable body could draw up portfolios of generic adaptions for different architectural periods, with the cooperation of disability organisations, architectural professionals and ‘historical societies’. Parishes considering alterations could be assured that

  • these adaptions are proven both in functional and civil engineering terms.
  • Faculty applications for projects clearly using an appropriate generic design will be warranted to be favourably looked on by Diocesan Advisory Committees

Currently much expertise (above diocesan level) in alterations is vested in commercial architectural practices. This liberates this experience for the common good, and equips parishes to understand what sorts of adaption might work for their building, allowing them to focus on planning for development.

Comprehensive access development roadmap

Diocesan Advisory Committees (who grant planning approvals) should insist that any change to church buildings which has at its core sensory, hygiene or physical access adjustments be accompanied by a definite outline plan (including initial drawings) indicating a roadmap of all major changes necessary to ensure that the building will be no impediment to welcoming the whole community including the full spectrum of disabilities.

Presently it is possible for a parish to request a faculty (planning permission) for hygiene alterations, for example the provision of disabled toilet), when the relevant building continues to rely on a system of portable ramps to provide disability access. This provision combats the present non-sensical situation.

Community need consideration for any hygiene related change

Churches should be mandated to consider community benefit when changing hygiene provisions in their building, for example by altering toilets, installing disabled facilities, or changing areas.

For example a church installing disabled toilets should consider whether it can improve wider community accessibility through provision of a space meeting the Changing Places standard

Categories
Communications

Church Resource Hub?

Changes in patterns of ministerial service mean that a resourcing service at provincial level that can support the life of faith in the local parish church is urgently needed. An enabling Hub can draw locally generated resources into a national asset library. Such a hub is a critical necessity to equip commissioned or licensed lay leaders so they may serve and sustain the light of incarnate faith in local churches across England.


One of the humbling and inspiring features of the Church of England is the quality of thought, discernment and creativity found in the people of faith scattered across the 15,000 or so parishes. The commitment to subsidiarity in the Anglican churches, including this Church of England, means that there are few readily available platforms for drawing these invested gifts back to make them available for the common good across the wider church.

An authorised hub with national leadership would allow the best content and resources produced in Church of England to surface for the benefit of the whole people of God.

Why is this needed?

Changes in the pattern of ministerial deployment and creative acts by Bishops in various places are leading to the rapid authorisation via ‘Bishops Commission’ or similar instrument of lay people to act as service leaders, discipleship coaches, as pastoral workers or preachers.

The probability of success for such initiatives would be greatly enhanced were resources available to this new cadre of lay leaders in the church.

What sort of resource are we talking about?

Predominantly resources which enable the new cadre to effectively serve their congregation in their role. We anticipate that very many of these leaders will be ‘time poor’ and that resources which enable them to spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘preparing’ will predominate. Four classes of material might be considered:

  • drawing existing resources together with minimal modification
  • providing access to appropriate projects provided by para church organisations, or research by appropriate bodies.
  • adapting existing programmes from specific churches or areas to make them ‘widely deployable’
  • Least commonly, at least initially, to commission specific projects.\

How would we know what to provide in such a hub?

The true scope of such hub can only be precisely determined as users interact with the service. The project would benefit from an Agile approach similar to that commonly used in software development which would iterate rapidly from minimally viable product based on the analytics gained from users.

Why doesn’t it happen already?

The commitment to subsidiarity in the Anglican churches mean that there are few internal organisational vehicles for sharing the true span of the quality of invested in the lives of the faithful. Many excellent para church projects contribute valuable work in specific areas, but there is a specific lack of a provincially authorised source of curated products.

What models could we look at and learn from?

The model of the best bits of Open Access publishing in the Academic world is striking. Here are ‘Journals’ of every flavour, which provide a neutral space for academics from many different (and frequently competing) institutions to share knowledge. Typically they are managed by a largely volunteer editorial board, and the requirements for peer review, and other academic activities are met voluntarily from within the user community.

Recent developments have seen the Open Access community focusing on preserving the entire asset stack relating to the research paper – rather than just the final text. This move the Open Access journal towards a fusion of a document server and digital asset mangers.

These developments both conceptual and suggest that both in terms of concept and available platforms the church could be pushing at an open door in implementing such a resource hub.

Who should run this?

People who understand

  • the software design aspects of the problem
  • the user needs and interface issues
  • the existing resources available across the world
  • the future of the English Church
  • developments in missiology

What roadblocks might exist

Proposed digital products such as this require considerable user literacy, which evidence suggests is lacking in wider congregations. Whether it is lacking in the specific cadre of new ‘lay leaders’ is unclear. There are also barriers relating to bandwidth in some of the more isolated parts of the country, which mean there may need to be a physical media request service.

Finally where resources include provision for leaders to interact with digital products in the context of leading services there are issues because many churches lack the hardware to permit this. It may be necessary to think creatively and provide a standardised product similar to a mobile digital advertising display adapted to be suitably elegant and compatible with the listed buildings etc, to aid the delivery in some of the smallest and most delicate settings.

Where did this idea come from

I’m indebted to a collection of people including Tom Pearson for ideas presented at the 2018 Church of England Digital Labs hack day concerning a project called the ‘Church Support Hub’. 

 © Ian Wyllie 2019 for this post, with every expectation of sharing freely in the Church should someone be interested in taking the ideas on. I assert my moral rights etc. 

Categories
Data Stories

Ordinands: disabled under-represented?

Only four percent of candidates sponsored for a BAP (the gateway process in selection for ordination) declare a disability. Relative to national proportions of disability in working age adults there seems to be massive under-representation in the selection process. Is pernicious, cumulative and hidden discrimination to blame, or does poor measurement and lack of focus by the Ministry Division bear the blame?

4% of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability… 

Bishop Seeley (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich), as chair of the Ministry Council

In written questions at Synod on 20th February 2019 Mr Williams asked the Chair of the. Ministry Council about the proportion of candidates with disability at four points in the process of discernment surrounding ordination and appointment

  • Entering the vocations process for ordained ministry;
  • Being recommended for training;
  • Completing training; and
  • Receiving a stipendiary vs non-stipendiary title post?

His question is perceptive since since the potential for filtering as a function of the protected characteristics the candidate expresses during the discernment process could poses a discriminatory force on ordinations, and the published data does not suggest the issue has high visibility for the Church of England.

A further necessary question Mr Williams neglects

Based on my personal experience of the Vocations system in the Church of England Mr Williams might also have useful added a fifth point at which the proportion of disabled candidates could usefully be recorded:

  • when their Vicar recommends them to meet with the DDO

This is necessary because this might in fact be the point at which the greatest effort needs to be focused on combatting discrimination.

 Response at Synod from Bishop Seeley

In a written response the Bishop Seeley (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich), as chair of the Ministry Council said

In the 2017/2018 academic year, 4% of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability, the same percentage were recommended for training and a slightly higher percentage, 5%, sponsored for a stipendiary post.

I have no doubt that the answer given by Mr Seeley is accurate in the terms given. It is in fact those terms which causes most concern

Self declaration results in under identification of disabled candidates

Specifically the answer refers to candidates ‘declaring a disability’. In the 2014 report on Ordained Vocation Statistics it was clear that disability was being assessed based on ‘self declaration’ for reasonable adjustment at a panel. Assessing on this basis is known to result in under reporting, as the report acknowledges

As those declaring a disability are only doing so if it is relevant to BAP, the numbers are low and do not reflect the likely number of ordinands with a disability. This makes the data unreliable and indicates a need to take steps to improve the monitoring process.

The similarity in the 2014 and 2019 language ‘declaring a disability’ suggests a continued reliance on self declaration as a method for monitoring levels of disabled candidates in the discernment process. Relying on self declaration almost always fails to identify significant proportions of the disabled community. The reasons for under-declaration are complex but are thought to include applicants:

  • Believing their condition or disability has nothing to do with your ability to perform the role
  • not wanting an ‘employer’ to focus on the disability during a selection process
  • assuming that the ‘employer’ will expect you to have difficulties, need more time off, or support.

Achieving a realistic estimate

It’s almost certain that there is a problem with the statistics being reported, both in the 2014 report and Mr Seeley’s answer. The Papworth Trust’s disability stats reference 2018 suggests 18% of the working age population has a ‘disability’ of some sort.

 Do we know what pool the church is picking its ordinands from?

We don’t know what proportion of worshippers experience a disability. That matters, because we can’t assess whether the figures given in 2014 and by Mr Seeley are helpful without understanding the population the process is selecting from. Sadly discrimination in ‘right to access worship’ may mean that the pool the Church of England is choosing its ordinands from differs substantially in respect of type and severity of disability in respect to the wider population.

What should we want the answer to be?

I hope I worship in a church where there is a commitment to the poor, the excluded and the disabled. That care for, and responsibility to the ‘outsider’ is something that jumps out at me from the whole of scripture. So for the church to be finding that only four percent of those sponsored for a BAP declared a disability fills me with horror. Even if that answer is 100% below the actual, i.e. 8% of the BAP population is disabled, the proportion of candidates with a disability is still far below the proportion of disabled people in the working age population. Something is probably going very badly wrong

Is sufficient attention being paid to this by the Church of England?

Since it’s been known that the Church of England’s understanding of the potential problem of discrimination in it selection of candidates for ordination is incomplete since 2014 (nine years after the Disability Discrimination Act) passed, reasonable questions should be asked as to whether sufficient priority has been given to what is an important statistic.