By Kara Witherow, Editor
Misty Hayes is a fiercely independent woman, a busy volunteer who spends time serving at Colquitt United Methodist Church’s food bank, helping with the church’s children and youth ministries, and participating in Colquitt’s Swamp Gravy folk-life play.
Nothing stops Hayes, says Colquitt UMC pastor Rev Scott Stanfill, except the church’s door.
Hayes, who uses a wheelchair, was born with a progressive muscle disease that is a type of muscular dystrophy. The church’s door was hard to open and she often had to wait outside until someone let her in. There were times she had to wait 30 minutes or longer, Rev. Stanfill said.
“I like to be involved in things at the church and I am really independent; I like to come and go like I want to,” Hayes said. But not being able to get into the church and knowing she had to rely on others made it difficult. “I would be out there freezing, just hoping someone would come out and open the door. That was really hard and sometimes I’d think maybe I should just go back home.”
When Colquitt UMC conducted its accessibility audit for charge conference several years ago, it decided to follow the lead of Jesus when He asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Rather than simply ask the Trustees to do a walk-through, church leaders and then-pastor Rev. Rebecca Duke-Barton asked Hayes what she needed.
Hayes was quick to suggest that the church door be made accessible with an automatic door opener, a push button that would open the door with a touch.
“I made it known that they really needed a button or something that would help not just me, but others. A lot of people come for our food bank and there are others in wheelchairs, and this will help them come in and out the door.”
Colquitt UMC applied for and was awarded an $1,800 grant from the Renfro Trust Fund
, which awards annual bricks-and-mortar grants to small rural United Methodist congregations in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
“With the majority of the churches in South Georgia being small and rural, I am so thankful for the Renfro Trust Grant which is designated specifically for these churches and their unique needs,” said Allison Lindsey, associate director for Connectional Ministries and chairperson, Conference Secretaries of Global Ministries. “The Renfro Trust Grant is another example of the strength of our connectional system, as these funds come through the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.”
Though the cost to make the door accessible was slightly more than the funds received from the grant, additional funds were received from private contributions as well as a donation from Colquitt UMC’s Outreach Committee.
The handicap accessible entry was finished in July. Now, with the touch of a button, Hayes and others have immediate and easy access in and out of the church building.
Hayes said that the church’s investment in accessibility makes her feel important and included, and urges other churches to take similar steps.
“Put yourself in their shoes sometimes and you realize that the smallest of things can make life a lot easier for somebody, especially the need to make things more accessible. It makes the person feel important and like they are really part of the church,” she said. “I’m so thankful to everyone for getting this done. It means a lot to me that the church did this. A lot of people don’t always realize the things that you need to make life a little easier, and it’s nice that they are aware and notice and care enough to want to make it happen. It means a lot. A lot.”