Faith Works 7-12-14
Other ways, or more ways than one
Back in the 1970s, my Scout troop was famous, or infamous, for our big old purple school bus.
We had a logo for Troop 7 on the side, and did I mention it was purple?
I still make re-acquaintance with people online from those days whose second or third question is "what happened to that purple people eater you guys had?"
The answer is, like most non-profits, Troop 7 may still be Scouting, but busing is no longer their business.
It did break down quite often (and oh the stories of our unexpected layovers looking for water pumps and suchlike along the road), and our drivers were fairly safe, especially given that the bus couldn't go very fast, but today safety regulations and what I'll call "other" regulations that may or may not have much to do with safety, and the big old people eater of insurance took a big enough bite out of our popcorn sales that it simply became no longer sensible to have our own bus.
That's true for most churches now, and even 15 passenger vans can be dicey to keep owned by and operated for faith communities. You see fewer of them on the road or at camp drop-off or other events where half the kids or adults came in church vehicles.
I have a parishoner who has relied on the Licking County Transit to get to worship on Sundays. She has gotten rides from others of us, myself included, but the bus has been reliable. She doesn't yet need a wheelchair or other assistance, but that day could come. I have colleagues in ministry who have mobility restricted parishoners who rely on a vehicle they use through the week to get to worship on Sunday morning, and not only do they not have a bus or van, they couldn't transport a wheelchair with them if they did. I know of at least half a dozen stories like this, and I can't imagine I know everyone.
So I was chagrined to learn that the Transit folk, with the support of the county commissioners, are planning to end Sunday morning service because they are not making money. Or enough money, perhaps.
I'm sure Sunday morning is not a profit center for them, and yes, transportation is a long-standing vexed challenge for our society, let alone for Licking County. It may not continue.
But to hear "there are other services; they have other ways to get to church" was disheartening to me. Churches are doing plenty of transportation already; we take people to medical appointments (a couple in our congregation were recently honored, in part, for that work), we help folks pick up medications or get to surgery or back from hospitals and nursing homes.
And we're often told that, liability wise, we probably shouldn't. Don't even ask me to call our insurance carrier and ask them "is this a good idea?"
So to hear that congregations should take on a role that, on the other hand, the law and regulation and liability is pushing us to stop doing – I have to object.
Ironically, I will be gone on Wednesday, July 16, when a 6:00 pm community input session is scheduled, nor can I drop by the commissioners' meetings this next week on Tuesday or Thursday at 9:30 am to share my concerns. But I do have this column, and I trust some articulate friends in the community.
May I also note, and hope I don't take any votes away from good public servants by saying, that I happen to be quite confident of the faith commitments of not only the three current serving commissioners, and also of the two candidates running this fall. They mean well for and want to do good by the congregations and fellowships and assemblies of this county, which contribute an invaluable amount of care and support for the disabled, needed, and desperate. I accept that implicitly.
But I would humbly suggest that they may not have thought through just how disabled and impaired individuals can safely get to Sunday worship, and that we in the churches are being told not to do this even as we're being challenged (again) to fill the gap.
And I would add this: what if the same effort towards explaining why the Transit Board can't do this was put into communicating that they ARE and can do it? I suspect there are many who don't ask for such service, at $4 or even more, because they don't even think it's offered.
That might just pay a dividend.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he plans on talking personally to the county commissioners and candidates as soon as he gets back. Tell him what happens Wed. night at email@example.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.