St. John’s Lutheran Church accessibility is ‘absolutely phenomenal’
Sometimes prayers are indeed answered.
“We were praying for 50 and we got over 50,” The Rev. Kenneth L. Buckwalter, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Emmaus, said scanning the crowd of church members, well-wishers, church leaders and political figures gathered at a reception and open house Nov. 1 in the parish hall to celebrate the completion of an accessibility project at the church.
The project, encompassing an outdoor ramp from the sidewalk to the church, a three-stop vertical lift, a seating area in the sanctuary for those who use wheelchairs and an accessible gender neutral American with Disabilities Act compliant restroom, answers a need at the church and in the wider community, Audra Berner, congregation president, said.
“We have taken gigantic steps to make the building accessible,” Berner continued. “We are blessed to open up the sanctuary to a wider audience.”
Construction began in March and finished in September. A mix of indoor and outdoor components within the larger project allowed crews from Arthur P. Houser General Contractor, Emmaus, to work in all weather conditions.
Inspiration for the accessibility project began in the mid-20th century. The stone church, nearly a century-old, includes seven levels.
“It wasn’t built to be changed,” Harold Klose, project coordinator said in prepared remarks.
Discussions about adding an elevator began in the 1970s but costs were prohibitive at the time, Harvey McGarry, a church member and co-chair of the property committee, said in a tour of the church.
The overall price tag for the construction project was $300,000. Members as well as the church contributed to the project.
St. John’s officials also approached the Borough of Emmaus for the approval of two handicapped parking spaces on Fifth Street to be used during 8 and 10:30 a.m. worship services Sundays. The church is located at the intersection of Fifth and Chestnut streets in the borough.
The renovations are expected to open the church to community groups. According to the church website such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Debtors Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Emmaus Youth Association, Emmaus Women’s Club, Emmaus Historical Society and Girl Scouts are among those groups using the church. The groups may be able to welcome new members thanks to increased accessibility at the church. Also, new groups may select the church as a meeting place because of improved access.
The renovations also re-open the church to members of the congregation who were unable to attend services, Berner said.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” Berner said.