by The Rev. Kathryn Costas, Rector in the Interim
Keeping in mind that Grace is a downtown church, we wondered what that might mean for folks. When participants entered the parish hall, they were given a card with a number on one side that identified their table and the other side identified who they would be as they participated in the afternoon exercise. This included: recently retired and new to Traverse City, homeless, a tourist, a person with limited accessibility, a 30-something person with children. The assignment was to discover our neighborhood up to two blocks in either direction through the eyes of the folks listed on one’s card. People were asked to observe our church and surrounding area with new eyes. This exercise became an eye-opener for many.
Here are some of the findings:
From the tourists: Grace is not physically visible, there is lots of construction going on, several religious options on one street, this is a walkable/bikeable community. large legal presence nearby including jail, Uninspiring signage, lack of advertisement of accessibility to church, most visibility will come from “parkers”, no handicap signs, where do we enter?, need directional signs inside building, where is church info or literature?, Am I welcome?
From folks with limited accessibility: No church sign in front, the sign on the corner is tough to read from car, no signage for parking lot, well kept grounds but noticed construction all around, interesting mix of churches, municipal buildings, and residential, welcomers crucial at front and back, better encouragement and visibility for coffee hour, need more newcomer/welcoming training, curb in front of door on Washington St., parking too far from entrance, handicap parking is far away from ramp, move 2 parking spots to base of ramp rather than by stairs, no elevator to fully utilize up and downstairs spaces, no bus stop nearby, west door to parish hall locked during services with 2 parking spaces, only one interior ramp in church, sound system needs better mics, receiver for hearing impaired, too great a distance to communion rail, special pews for folks with wheelchairs and canes so communion can be brought there, electronic button to access doors (including bathrooms).
From the homeless: area of well maintained homes, hidden spots to sleep, meal schedule posted at Methodist Church but not at Grace, ATM rooms are locked, Jubilee House closed as well as Methodist Church, big locked doors, most lobbies are locked, limited public restrooms, free meals behind restaurants, church has restrooms and water, a food source.
From the recently retired and new to TC: Wouldn’t know there was a church here until right in front of it, lack of parking in the area, no clear signage, outside of Grace belies inside, no “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” signs, not many people walking by, Grace/Jubilee House not connected (either online or in print), Court House connections, not clear where to enter, street is dark at night.
From 30 something with children: the church is surrounded by apartments and condos – few children and families in immediate area, lack of young persons to welcome other youngsters, activity bags are good to occupy children, (are they well stocked?), no place for outside activities.
Eyes were opened as people observed our church and surrounding area looking for what others might see. Accessibility in the parking area and in the church plant and lack of signage both within the church and outdoors surprised people. These are two areas that many noticed needed improving. Work in these areas will continue as we work toward being a more welcoming church plant.