Accessibility and the church: creating a community of faith, love and inclusion

We celebrate International Day of People with Disability on 3 December, but how inclusive are we really in the church – spiritually, physically and online?

Accessibility in churches reaches beyond the physical barriers, and can also be about social inclusion and good theology around disability.

Robbie Muir, from Maylands Mount Lawley Uniting Church, lives with hearing and sight disabilities and feels it is important to teach the church how to be more inclusive. He also works with Good Sammy Enterprises, volunteers with Revive packing, and sits on the Uniting Church WA Disability Royal Commission Synod Task Group. He has presented his thoughts to Presbytery of WA meetings in the past, to encourage churches to become more accessible.

“A lot of my experience has been trying to teach the church what to do,” he said. “It’s alright for people to say ‘oh yes we care for the disabled’, but if they haven’t got things in place, it’s no good.”

Robbie encourages congregations to use overhead screens that are clear to see and free of backgrounds or busy images; make available large print copies of texts; provide hearing loops that are down the front of the church; have good lighting; have minimal steps or provide ramps; and have bathrooms that are easily accessible.

He thanked the church for its progression in this area, but also said he would like the church to be more aware of the issues that affect people with a disability and their inclusion in church.

“Quite often we’ve had to come up with ways to get around things,” he said. “I have an IrisVision that I can put on and see the overheads, but for a few weeks we had somebody who couldn’t do the overheads and we had sheets – and no one enlarged the hymns for me.

“It makes you feel a bit useless and that the church isn’t for you. It makes you feel isolated and excluded.”

He also encourages people to talk to members of their congregation who have a disability, and ask them what would help their experience at church.

“I think a lot of people don’t talk to the disabled because they think they’re stupid or don’t understand. Ask the disabled person [what they need], don’t just think ‘oh well they’ll manage’. Ask them. We’re not dumb, we’re not stupid.”

Dr Scott Hollier, CEO of The Centre for Accessibility Australia, is passionate about supporting organisations to create accessible digital spaces. He is also legally blind, and a member of Kalamunda Uniting Church.

Scott said that creating accessible spaces, and therefore inclusion, for people living with disability, is easier than we think. With some intentional thinking and planning, we can all get better at creating an accessible environment.

“Look at the quick wins,” Scott said. “You don’t have to solve every disability issue instantly; it will be a journey. But once the key pieces are in place it becomes a different way of doing things, rather than extra work.

“For example, once you’ve got that slide template high contrast, well, every slide will be high contrast. 

“Quite often it is just about an awareness. Once people are aware of it and people are happy to do it, then it just happens after that point going forward.”

Melanie Kiely, CEO of Good Sammy Enterprises, a Uniting Church WA agency providing employment solutions for people living with disability, agrees that our digital  and physical spaces need accessibility, and that we can go further on inclusivity.

“It’s so much more than just space and physical accessibility. If we just focus on that then we’ve lost an opportunity here,” Melanie said. 

“It’s about inclusion, it’s about welcoming and embracing everybody – regardless of their ability and their background – into a church environment.

“It’s what we cover in the sermon, it’s the language we use, it’s the hymnbooks we use. Obviously, it’s the ramps and what have you, but it’s more than that.

“It’s about running churches that embrace everyone.

“We should be having people with disability in every church service as part of everything we do in the church. And they should feel completely included and we should learn from them, as much as they can learn from us.

“We’re about creating a community of faith, love and inclusion – that’s what I would like to see.

“Include everyone in the sermon, let them talk about their experience. Let’s include them in the choir, playing music and in the art. Include all levels of creativity, so that we’re embracing the differences of all our people in our congregations. 

Melanie said that living with a disability does not have to be a negative thing. All people are unique and have gifts and skills, which should be welcomed and celebrated.

“We shouldn’t assume people  with disability are flawed. We’re  all different, we all have abilities  of different natures and we shouldn’t assume that people  need to be fixed,” she said.

“We should accept people and embrace people with all their  unique and special characteristics.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) was established in April 2019 and is still ongoing. It is likely that the Uniting Church WA will be affected by the Royal Commission. However, the church has a longstanding belief of inclusiveness, and works towards this end.

Dr Scott Hollier said that the Royal Commission is an opportunity for us to learn from the past.

“I think the Royal Commission has revealed that people with disability have not always been treated well in the church, and that needs to be acknowledged,” he said.

“I think the Uniting Church has done well in acknowledging the issues and trying to put processes in place going forward, and I think that’s a good thing.

“That said, my focus, and the focus at the Centre and as a legally blind person, is that we need to learn from the past.  The Royal Commission has been important in understanding what has happened.

“Accessibility – whilst certainly that type of exclusion is nothing on the scale of physical abuse and spiritual abuse – does tap back into the importance of inclusion and equity moving forward.

“I would see accessibility as one more mechanism where we can focus going forward on making sure everyone is included in a worship space, and have that opportunity for full participation.”

Melanie Kiely, believes the Royal Commission is a good thing for Australia.

“It’s going to be a good thing for everyone,” she said. “You take the lid off the can of worms nd we can improve and stop bad behaviour and get better. We’ve got to keep improving.

“We’re not about protecting ourselves and we’re not about covering things up. We’re about learning from our past mistakes and moving on and not making them again.

“What we’re aiming for is a society that truly embraces diversity and inclusion, and that includes people with disabilities, and adapt the model of what we think perfect is, to be one that is beautiful diverse and imperfect.”

Melanie said the Royal Commission will be felt throughout the church – in our agencies, schools and congregations.

“I would see accessibility as one more mechanism where we can focus going forward on making sure everyone is included in a worship space, and have that opportunity for full participation.”

“I think it’s right across the board and I think it may or may not include an element of redress,” she said.

“It’s very wide reaching, and at this stage it’s going to go for another two years. There’s going to be a lot more hearings on a lot more topics.”

Dr Elaine Ledgerwood, Uniting Church WA Presbytery Minister – Education and Training, is a theologian with past experience in Occupational Therapy. Having worked with people with disabilities and listening to their stories, mixed with studying and continuously learning about God’s all-inclusive love, Elaine believes we are all vulnerable to disability throughout our lives.

“You are only temporarily able,” Elaine said. “For many people, this is likely to change.

“People with disabilities are like the rest of us – we all have our different hopes and fears, different personalities and different understandings of faith. One

day you might have a disability too; when that’s the case, I am sure you would like others in your congregation to ensure you are included in their activities.”

Theologically, Elaine said that sometimes people can make comments about a disability which may be in good faith, but which can actually be quite harmful.

“Spiritual abuse is a problem, such as when people get told they need to pray harder for healing,” Elaine said. “Instead, ask questions to help people find their own connection between their faith and disability. 

“Using disability as a metaphor for the bad things in life – for example, talking about the Pharisees being ‘blind’ – can often be experienced as being judgemental about disability. Yes, it is something the gospel writers did, but we now understand the harm this can cause.

“Disabilities can be part of someone’s identity. So, saying things like ‘in heaven you’ll be walking’, or similar, is not always helpful. How would you feel if a key part of your identity was dismissed as not being important? Remember the resurrected Christ still carried the wounds of the crucifixion.”

However, living with disability does not always define a person, and Elaine said we should not make assumptions about anyone and their abilities.

“Disabilities do not define people. Just because you’ve known someone else with the same disability doesn’t mean you know this person. Get to know each person as an individual.”

Dr Scott Hollier believes that we have come a long way in Australia towards creating more accessibility, but that there is still a way to go.

“There’s been a generational shift around views and attitudes of people with disability and inclusion in society. That’s not just a church thing, but more broadly,” he said.

“I think as we continue to move forward with more awareness and education of the rights and needs of people with disability, that across society, and that includes religious organisations, that will get better.

“One of the great things about church is that it is a really supportive and inclusive environment. The lack of accessibility has never suggested to me that people don’t care or that people aren’t wanting to provide support – often it’s a lack of awareness.

“It’s been my experience that once people understand what the needs are, they’ve been very willing to make those accommodations. There’s a lot of great people who are willing to do great things to support equity, and it’s just a matter of letting people know about it.”

Tips for being an accessible church

Dr Scott Hollier shares these great tips for how your church or organisation can become more accessible in digital and physical spaces.

  • Make sure overhead slides have large font with good colour contrast, eg a dark background with white text. If people are still unable to see the slides, having devices (like an iPad) available with a link to see them can also be helpful.
  • Make sure videos have captions.
  • Distribute electronic versions of meeting documents before meetings.
  • Make sure PDF documents and newsletters are digitally accessible.
  • It is an Australian requirement that websites are compliant with the WCAG 2.1 AA standard, which has a range of key components. When building a new website, make sure to read up about these requirements or ask your web designer to work them in. 
  • Make sure physical access to, from and around the building is clear and open, giving thought to things like space, handrails, and clutter.

Resources for more information about how to get your congregation on board with accessibility can be found on the website for the Centre for Accessibility Australia at

The Centre for Accessibility Australia can also work with congregations and organisations as they commit to this journey. Contact them for more information on 0466 099 101 or email

Heather Dowling

Green Rider

If you are looking for a stocking filler for Christmas or just to fill in some relaxing time over the break, then this captivating heroic fantasy adventure is for you.

Green Rider, the first book in the Green Rider series, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Following the success of this book another five were added to the series – First Rider’s Call, The High King’s Tomb, Blackveil, Mirror Sight, Firebrand and a novella, The Dream Gatherer. On 14 September 2021, a seventh book called Winterlight  was released.

The Green Rider series is suitable for both young adult and adult readers, falling into the categories of supernatural/classic fantasy. The underlying message of the series is that running away from a problem does not solve it and choosing to do ‘nothing’ at times is also an action.

The book begins with our protagonist, Karigan G’ladheon, a merchant’s daughter, who has fled from school following a duel in where she bested a wealthy aristocrat, an incident that will likely lead to her expulsion. As she makes her way through the deep forest, a galloping horse pounds up to her, its rider impaled by two black-shafted arrows.

With his dying breath, he tells her that he is a Green Rider, one of the legendary elite messengers in the king’s service and makes Karigan swear to deliver their message he’s carrying. Giving her his green coat, with its golden winged horse brooch, the symbol of his office, and whispers on his dying breath, “Beware the shadow man…”. This promise given changes Karigan’s life forever.

Pursued by unknown assassins and following a path only her horse seems to know, Karigan unwittingly finds herself in a world of deadly danger and complex magic, compelled by forces she cannot understand. Karigan is hounded by dark beings bent on seeing that the message, and its reluctant carrier, never reach their destination.

In a world with kings, elves, and monstrous creatures emerging from a breach in the wall, this book manages to step outside of the typical cliche fantasy without losing its heritage. All in all, it is a great read.

Andrea Garvey

Help build the Archive collection

Uniting Church WA Archivists,

The Uniting Church Archive has long been a vibrant and bustling hive of activity and this year, celebrated 39 years since its inception in 1982.  As we look to the future of the Archive, there is much eager anticipation for its 40th anniversary in October next year and all the activities that this celebration will bring.

There have been many changes over the past 40 years, but what has been consistent has been the dedication and enthusiasm brought to the Archive by the many wonderful volunteers who have generously given their time and expertise. We currently have nine active volunteers who are working on a variety of projects such as digitising marriage registers, collating photographs and updating people and place histories.

We are also grateful to the members of the wider Uniting Church community, who continue to identify and value items that reflect our history and then send them through to the Archive for inclusion in our collection.

The past 39 years spent archiving the Uniting Church’s history has created a collection that is an  eclectic one. It is a mix of physical items such as a stained glass window, textiles, books and photographs from the 1800’s, through to the digital records of today.

As we look forward to our 40th celebrations next year, we would like to send out a call for any items that may be suitable for inclusion in our collection. Items such as Baptismal, Marriage and Death Registers, minutes of meetings, correspondence, historical and biographical records, photographs, financial records, parish newsletters and brochures, architectural plans, membership rolls and so on would be gratefully received.

Any queries can be directed to the Uniting Church of WA’s Archivist, Marissa Krajcar at or by calling 9260 9865.

Shout out to all our Church Councils and Elders!

The Commission for Education for Discipleship and Leadership (CEDAL) is offering training for Uniting Church WA Church Council Members and Elders.

These leaders bring a wealth of knowledge and wisdom from their own faith, life experience, professional skills, community participation, and involvement within the church.

They give their time, energy, enthusiasm and so much more, so that our congregations, and the broader church, can run effectively. Yet, rarely do we take the time to help them shape what they bring for leadership into the specific demands and context of leadership in the councils of the church.

Within the Uniting Church constitution, we ask church councils and elders to do spiritual oversight and pastoral care, build-up the congregation in faith and love, sustain its members in hope, and lead them into a fuller participation in Christ’s mission in the world. The training starts looking at the DNA of the Uniting Church. We also consider the language we have to talk about spirituality for ourselves, with the people in our congregations, and the communities beyond. We also think about the dynamics in church meetings, and how participating in Christ’s mission requires taking time to consider our communities and how we might connect, and how to develop new ways to engage.

We have now run this program twice, with great feedback. Participants have enjoyed the interactive space and the chance to develop deeper background into the work of leading our churches.

CEDAL will be running this program again in 2022 at a place near you! To host the training for Uniting Church WA congregations in your local area, get in touch by calling CEDAL at the Uniting Church Centre on 9260 9800,  or email

Discovering mission for God’s world

Rev Rob Douglas, Uniting Church WA Presbytery Minister (Mission) reflection on termite mounds across the Kimberley landscape.

Perception can be an interesting thing.

Prior to starting work with the Uniting Church WA, my wife and I were in the Kimberley region in the far north of WA doing a locum ministry with a Baptist church. For well over 12 months, I had been producing good news stories on video for my YouTube channel and blog ( and the Kimberley was a rich source of stories.

I had produced a number of inspirational videos for residents of the Esther Foundation and decided to do a reflection on the termite mounds that dotted the landscape across the Kimberley. I was thinking along the lines of these mounds representing the church and the great work that people were doing in working together. Termites basically chew, spit and poo. Hey presto! They produce a massive mound that serves as a means of climate control for their nests.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was something wrong with this first perception. Yes, that’s what the church is often like – a safe and secure place where we can work together and achieve our goals – but is that what God has really intended for us? That became the question for the video I finally produced, which you can watch at

In September this year, I commenced as the Uniting Church WA Presbytery Minister (Mission). I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with congregations within the Presbytery discovering more about God’s mission in the world, and how we can connect with what God is already doing.

Recently, a team of people, organised by the Presbytery of WA’s Thrive Mission Committee, spent a weekend being trained as mission coaches. These people will be available to work with congregations that are seeking to discover the mission God has called them to and help them in their mission journey. I am excited to see the possibilities that will emerge from this training.

Mission has long been the thing that makes me tick. I’ve been a Baptist pastor for nearly 40 years and for about 15 years served as a bivocational pastor. As the name suggests, I served as a pastor part-time and was part of the regular work force for the rest of my time.

Rather than think about my ‘secular’ work as just a way to make money to keep the family alive, I saw everything I did as mission. This gave me a deep sense of purpose and I hope to share this as I carry out my work in the Uniting Church.

Perhaps it comes down to that ‘perception’ thing I talked about earlier. When we are involved in our local church, do we perceive that we are building a termite mound that is safe and warm, where we can work together with our friends? But when we go to work, or look after the grandchildren, play golf, participate in the local Rotary club, study at university, that’s something else altogether?

I have a sense that God has called us to serve in this wonderful world and our purpose is to discover God’s fingerprint in everything that we do.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to go on a journey with you as we together discover God’s mission for us. I’m really hopeful that just as I began to get a different perception of the story of the termite mounds as I thought about what story to tell on video, we can also develop some different perceptions of the nature of the church.

That we can begin to tell stories about a church that is no longer isolated from society like a mound that has been created through the spit and poo of busy termites; but instead, we will have vibrant stories to tell about the Spirit blowing a fresh wind of new life through our local communities.

I look forward to our journey together.

Blessing the animals

NorthWay Uniting Church Beldon/Carramar 

In conjunction with St Francis of Assisi Day, on Monday 4 October, the NorthWay Uniting Church  Mission Team organised a Community Celebration and  Blessing of Pets Service on Saturday 2 October. A total of 32 people came long, including children, excluding pets!

Our guests of honour were City of Joondalup Mayor, Albert Jacob and Caitlin Collins MLA, Member for Hillarys.

The informal morning celebration opened with that beautiful creation hymn, ‘All things bright and beautiful’ followed by the much-loved ‘How much is that doggie in the window’ and ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’, which were sung lustily by both pets and their owners.

After each animal was introduced by name, each pet received a special blessing.

A brief reflection was shared by the Minister and the service ended with the singing of a locally written song about kangaroos and cockatoos, fish and fowl and moths and sloths. The half-hour celebration was followed by an elaborate morning tea. 

PLC Pipe Band celebrates 40-year anniversary

The Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) Pipe Band is celebrating 40 years since its first performance and its unique status as the first girls’ school pipe band in Australia.

Historically, pipe bands have been an all-male pursuit, however, thanks to the foresight of PLC’s then Musical Director, Eric Page, the introduction of the PLC Pipe Band has gone from strength to strength and is now a source of immense pride for the school.

Throughout its four decades, the PLC Perth Pipe Band has been a  regular feature at events throughout Perth, including ANZAC Day Parades  in Perth city, the Perth Royal Show,  Lilac Hill cricket matches, and many military events.

Marking this momentous occasion, a book has been published, celebrating the 40-year milestone.

Historian, Old Collegian and current parent, Lucy Hair has researched four decades of the PLC Perth Pipe Band to bring together an amazing collection of photographs and stories about the origins of the band, its tours and awards and fascinating insights from across the 40 years.  Lucy has also compiled a comprehensive list of every pipe band member since its inception in 1981.

To purchase a copy of this piece of history visit

Local community connection delivers new Foodbank facility in Yanchep

Uniting WA’s Financial Wellbeing Services team member, Paul Jordan, has been instrumental in facilitating the delivery of a new mobile Foodbank service in Yanchep.

Living and working in the local community, Paul identified an exceptionally high need for food relief in Yanchep and surrounding suburbs and a lack of services extending beyond Joondalup.

Understanding that travel to Joondalup was out of reach for many people, Paul went above and beyond to facilitate the delivery of a new Foodbank service to meet the needs of families in Yanchep.

Harnessing his community connections and working closely with Foodbank WA, the City of Wanneroo and Yanchep Men’s Shed, Paul played a significant  role in sourcing a new venue for  the service.

The Yanchep Community Men’s Shed kindly offered ongoing use of their facility, and the new service to help families struggling to put food on the table was launched on 24 August 2021.

Amanda Hunt, CEO of Uniting WA, said a significant number of people in Yanchep and surrounding areas are living under food stress.

“With the government’s COVID support removed, pressure on working families has never been greater,” she said.

“Evidence tells us that place-based solutions work.

“We’re proud of the work our team has done with Foodbank WA to facilitate a solution that will meet the specific needs of the local community.”

The mobile Foodbank truck distributes food hampers from the Yanchep Men’s Shed Bracknell Street carpark every Tuesday from 9.30am to 10.30am.

One of Paul’s former clients, Margaret, who received financial counselling support after being made redundant at the age of 70, is volunteering with Uniting WA to support delivery of the service.

If you need help or know someone who does, free-call the Foodbank Emergency Relief and Food Assistance Hotline on 1800 979 777, Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

Intentional relationships bring new life across the church

Some members of the St Martin’s Forrestfield and Kalamunda Uniting Church’s combined Covenant Yarning Circle with a copy of the A Guide to Congregations in WALKING TOGETHER AS A FIRST AND SECOND PEOPLES.

Life is better when it’s shared with others.

This is true for us as individuals, and can also be applied to our groups and organisations. Working in collaboration and partnership is a foundation of the Uniting Church.

In this vein, some Uniting Church WA congregations are finding support and renewed life by creating mutual partnerships. Our congregations are diverse geographically, culturally and theologically. Each has its own gifts that they bring to life, which through an intentional relationship could be shared for the benefit of others.

St Martin’s Forrestfield and Kalamunda Uniting Churches have, for over ten years, held a Memorandum of Agreement for a shared arrangement. Included in this is a Joint Co-ordinating Committee, which consists of members from each congregation whose role is to facilitate the process, as well as encourage opportunities for shared ministry and for growth in leadership. The two congregations work together in mission, share ministry costs, have two joint social justice groups, share discipleship and formation studies, and hold regular joint worship services.

Noranda and Margaret River Uniting Churches have also recently formed an intentional relationship, holding a virtual joint worship service where pre-recorded elements were played out in each congregation’s worship. Other congregations, both metropolitan and rural have also enjoyed these kinds of relationships.

The Presbytery is encouraging congregations to consider whether they too are called to develop relationships with another – not as an amalgamation, but as an intentional partnership which works for the benefit of both congregations.

Alison Xamon, Chair of the Presbytery of WA, said there are an exciting range of reasons for congregations to form intentional relationships with each other.

“We’re quite excited about what intentional relationships can offer for congregations,” Alison said. 

“It’s an opportunity for meaningful relationships beyond their immediate congregations with other members of the Uniting Church. And to learn different ways of worship, to gain ideas about different ways to do mission and an opportunity to deepen connections across the Uniting Church.

“This is an opportunity to expand, strengthen and grow congregations through increased connection.”

The Presbytery of WA is offering to support congregations as they discern if this is something they would like to pursue, by connecting congregations who might be a good fit for each other.

Alison invites all congregations to prayerfully consider how they might be able to connect in this way and whether this is something they would like to pursue. If your congregation would like to know more, contact Rev Dr David Ferguson, Presbytery Officer for the Uniting Church WA, on 9260 9800 or email

Scarborough celebrates the harvest

In October, Scarborough Uniting Church celebrated a special Harvest Service led by Darren Mouchemore, one of our Elders.

Darren’s family have been involved in the fishing industry in Albany for many years. Darren had his father’s last fishing net which he used in Mosman Bay, he decided to make it a service celebrating the harvest of the sea, as well as a harvest of the land. We took the opportunity to invite folk who haven’t worshipped with us for some time. Although some weren’t able to come as it was a long weekend, those who did helped to make it a special service.

The theme of harvesting the seas and the land was reflected in the display in the church.

Darren draped his father’s fishing net, which is 76-years-old, over a frame behind the display of food. Some of the food was brought forward by the congregation during the showing of a film on the fishing industry in Albany and was placed on the display. 

Displayed was wheat grown from seeds provided by a farmer friend of another Elder, Margaret Hockridge, and as Darren tells us we were lucky to have it to display, as a friend’s dog decided it looked pretty good to eat! 

Margaret and Alan Hockridge’s daughter, Nerida baked a pastry sheaf of wheat for the display. Darren is a keeper of bees and although he wasn’t able to provide a full frame of honeycomb, he was able to place in front of the display what was available on the day.  It was a family affair as Darren’s wife, Judy was on the flower roster for that Sunday.

It is a number of years since we have celebrated a Harvest Festival and it was good to set aside that Sunday to reflect on the bountiful harvest God provides.

The congregation was very generous in providing food for the service.

At Scarborough, the congregation brings non-perishable food to church for Uniting Aid each Sunday. All the non-perishable food was taken by Denis Guyatt and Olwen Henley to Uniting Aid, an agency of the church supporting people in the City of Stirling. Darren took the perishable food to Chrystal Halliday Juniper, in Karrinyup. 

Delys Griffith