By Barb Arland-Fye
What was I thinking?
In March 2014, I asked my husband Steve to drop me off at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport to attend Stations of the Cross and a soup supper/presentation afterwards.
One month earlier I had undergone surgery on my broken right leg, which was now in a cast and could not bear weight. I managed just fine on crutches inside the cathedral.
Afterwards, as I hobbled across the parking lot toward the 100-year-old school that serves as the cathedral’s “gathering space,” the sets of stairs leading up to and into the building seemed daunting to me. Inside, I’d have to negotiate another set of stairs descending to the cafeteria. Someone suggested using the back door on the other side of the building. But that entrance also has a sizeable step up. Did I mention that the school, like the cathedral, is on a hill?
Fortunately, two men going to the soup supper helped me maneuver the stairs – with considerable apprehension on the part of all three of us! For someone accustomed to running, walking and climbing without hesitation, I was receiving lessons in humility and in empathy for individuals who don’t have the use of their legs.
Months before, I’d been in the cafeteria of this same brick school building for a “town meeting” on a vision for Sacred Heart Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Davenport. This is the place where diocesan liturgical celebrations occur — ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate, the Chrism Mass, and every other year Rite of the Elect and Call to Continuing Conversion.
Father Rich Adam, the cathedral’s rector and pastor, and other parish leaders talked about the need for a gathering space that could accommodate diocesan receptions drawing people from 22 counties in southeast Iowa.
I remember thinking about the cramped seating in the cafeteria and the appearance of the room itself. It seemed gray in personality and outdated by about 50 years. But I hadn’t thought twice about the stairs that had to be climbed and descended. Two people using wheel chairs attended that meeting, which did cause me to wonder how they got there. I suspect their wheel chairs had to be lifted – very carefully — over the step at the back entrance. I reported on the dreams for Sacred Heart Cathedral and went on with other assignments.
The night of the soup supper and fascinating presentation on a pilgrimage walk called Camino de Santiago got me thinking about why the cathedral needs a handicapped accessible, comfortable gathering space. But if I needed a final nudge about promoting the cathedral’s proposed improvements, it was the experience of getting out of the cafeteria that night.
Steve left a message on my cell phone that he was waiting in the parking lot. I couldn’t call him back because I didn’t want to interrupt the presentation. Leaving the cafeteria on crutches, I felt exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to scoot up and down stairs on my butt (as I was doing at home). My husband, who was not familiar with the school building, guessed I might be having a problem getting out. He entered the school and carried me up the stairs. While I was grateful, it was a humbling experience.
I appreciate that it is the body of Christ, and not a building, which makes up the Church. But if we members of the body are to come together as Church, we need to ensure that everyone has access.