In a feeble attempt to explore concepts of privilege, I thought I’d spend a bit of time at church today with my eyes shut to try to experience a typical Church of England service from the perspective of a blind or a partially sighted person. Even having my eyes closed for a short while made me realise how difficult a church service must be for a blind person. I felt almost totally dependent on knowing the liturgy to make any real connection with what was taking place. When I had my eyes closed during those times when there was no set liturgy, I found it difficult to work out what was going on; for example, I couldn’t use a hymn book, and, during the readings, I found that every little noise distracted me from hearing Scripture read. But when we came to liturgically scripted parts – for example, the eucharistic prayer – I could join in, though only because I was already familiar with the liturgical texts.
With my eyes closed, I came to appreciate even more the importance of liturgy in our worship. It helped me participate in a way I couldn’t during the improvised moments. But, as I’ve already said, to participate in the service through the liturgy required me already to be familiar with the text, and, I suppose, to be familiar with the way a typical Church of England service is structured.
And with my eyes closed, I also came to realise just how excluding a typical Church of England service could be to someone disadvantaged in some way. (I’m picking on the C of E, because that’s my ecclesial tradition; but I’m assuming my thoughts apply equally to other traditions.) I could open my eyes at any time in the service and reorient myself; but others do not have that option, that privilege. So how can a local church, any local church, make its services accessible to someone who cannot see? Or to someone who cannot hear? Or to someone who cannot walk? Is it right and/or desirable to start special services aimed solely at people with particular disadvantages? Or should our existing services be tailored, or certain provisions supplied, to accommodate everyone, no matter their disadvantages?