In June, Altona Mennonite Church completed the construction of a new ramp, to help make its worship space more accessible. But, whereas many churches might have built the ramp and just left it at that, the Altona Man., congregation held a dedication for it during a Sunday morning worship service.
The idea for the ramp didn’t come with a vision or big rush of inspiration; it was simply the practical next step when the building’s crumbling front steps needed replacing. Robert Martens, an Altona Mennonite member who was instrumental in driving the project forward and doing much of the hands-on work, suggested tackling both projects at once so the ramp wouldn’t get sidelined or forgotten.
Accessibility features are becoming increasingly needed for the aging congregation—but it’s also just the right thing to do, according to Martens. “We say you’re welcome here, but if you can’t get to our building, it kind of gives you a different meaning. . . . It’s like saying, ‘We’ll keep the church doors locked and only whoever has a key can get in,’” he says.
Martens, along with another church member, raised the necessary funds, acquired the supplies, built the railing and landscaped the area. Martens asked fellow church member and metal sculptor Ken Loewen to create art to incorporate into the railing. Loewen designed three images of worshippers gathered around the cross—one empty, one with the crucified Christ and one with a dove.
All of this took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when few events were happening in person.
As life returns to a busier calendar, Martens hopes the ramp will be helpful to the community. Even if it’s not used that much, it’s still an important symbol, he says: “Your impression should be, ‘These people are accessible,’ and [the ramp] is a symbol of being welcoming, I think.”
Marlene Wiebe, another Altona Mennonite member, was compelled to write a reflective litany for the congregation to speak together when the ramp was dedicated. It began: “We are in the presence of God in this sacred place to dedicate our accessibility ramp. This beautiful structure is an outward sign of our faith in Christ who came to break down barriers.”
“Initially, I chuckled at the whole dedicating-the-ramp thing,” Wiebe says. “Upon further reflection and research, however, the significance of the ramp and what it represents kind of crept up on me and it just kept going. The implications about making our church accessible to everyone and heeding Christ’s call to break down barriers had a ripple effect.”
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The congregation of Altona Mennonite Church dedicated its new accessibility ramp during a Sunday morning worship service in June. (Photo courtesy of Loren Braul)
Ken Loewen, a metal artist and sculptor, created three images of worshippers at the cross to incorporate into the railing. (Photo courtesy of Altona Mennonite Church)