We Were Wrong
“When our policy doesn’t reflect our values, we keep our values and change the policy.”
When we founded our church in 1994, our goal was to be “a church without walls” … removing all barriers to those seeking to explore and experience a personal and loving relationship with God. Over the past quarter-century, warmly embracing people in a genuine and comfortable atmosphere has become a trademark of LowCountry Community Church and is likely a significant part of what draws some 2,500 members and guests to our services each weekend.
But last week we failed in our mission to be an inclusive church without barriers. A policy we instituted last year, in hopes of removing health and safety barriers for the “many,” has hurt a very important “one.”
This past Sunday, June 30, 2019, we had the privilege of welcoming a guest to our church who is sight impaired and uses a faithful and trusted service dog. Our church gladly welcomed service animals in our facilities for more than 23 years. However, in 2018, after extensive research and counsel, our church reluctantly made the decision to put into place a “no animals” policy. This was due to health and safety concerns—not around legitimate service animals—but uncertified, untrained, unvaccinated, non-service animals with whom a few were abusing the Americans with Disability Act Title III (ADA) and, therefore, putting members and guests at risk. While churches and private clubs are not required to follow ADA Title III stipulations, it was our desire to not only meet, but exceed the requirements of the law.
Our “no animals” policy was made with the safety of everyone in mind, but it was a mistake.
While our policy was certainly legal, we now realize it was not sensitive, wise, or reflective of our heart. We’ve worked hard for 25 years to be a church known for what we are for, not what we are against. The main thing we are for is people. These values haven’t changed, but our policy will. This Sunday, July 7, 2019, LowCountry Community Church will return to its original policy of warmly welcoming service animals and, more importantly, welcome their beloved owners.
I have extended a heartfelt, sincere personal apology to our visitor, which he has graciously accepted. But I want to apologize to him publicly here as well. We are sorry. As we shared with you during your visit, it would be our privilege to do everything we can to respectfully and joyfully assist with your special needs, as we do with the special needs of all our wonderful members and guests who so courageously navigate physical challenges to attend church each week.
After all, we all show up on Sundays facing challenges and bearing wounds—some visible, most that are invisible—I know I do. Jesus welcomes us all saying “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). I’m so grateful that Jesus welcomes me in all my imperfection … and it is our greatest desire at LowCountry Community Church to share that same inclusive welcome with all our neighbors … without barriers. Thank you to our young visitor this week for helping us learn how to do that better.
– Pastor Jeff Cranston