|Nellie Greene has a front row seat at the dedication.|
On Sunday, March 22 we dedicated the new ramp and Hopkins Terrace outside the Willow Grove Avenue entrance to the church. That morning, the following story was read about one of our long-time members, Nellie Greene. We are grateful to this community for its support of our Next Level Accessibility campaign and proud to have completed this next stage in St. Martin's Welcome to All.
At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Denver, Colorado, on July 10, 2000, a deacon of the church, the Rev. Nellie Greene, read the Gospel lesson at the opening daily service of worship. She did this using her electronic voice.
Not surprising, this irregular idea was Nellie’s. Living out her ministry of inclusion, Nellie had become a very strong advocate for those who have gifts, but limited abilities. She understood fully the loss of abilities. Over the years, she has shared her story with others in this way,
“I am a severely disabled, ordained deacon of the church. My disability is brain damage which my body received in a severe car accident on my way to college in 1970. ...My body has been left crippled with rigidity, and I am legally blind, unable to write or speak. I am totally dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. But I communicate with a talking lap-top; a desk top PC and in social settings, I use a “letter board”, made especially for me, with alphabet letters, familiar phrases and responses, to which I can point. I also talk with my face, my smile and my eyes.”
Early in 1999, Nellie made known to the national church leaders her desire to read the Gospel at General Convention, using her electronic voice. This was received with understandable concern. Doubts were expressed, and issues began to be addressed. Nellie cooperated fully, but did not give ground as an advocate for the disabled. Yes, it was asking to do something not done before. Yes, it would be hearing a reading of the Gospels in a new key.
As the convention neared, two issues remained. First, how would the deacon in a wheelchair reach the altar? The general convention altar is highly elevated for all to see and relate to the liturgy of worship. Secondly, how would the use of an electronic voice be managed through a complicated sound system?
For the first issue, possibly two very strong fellow deacons could lift Nellie in her chair and carry her up the many steps of the highly raised dais, where she could take her place as deacon near the altar. As for the electronic voice device, sound engineers could link it into the system.
There was a measure of real anxiety for everyone about these plans as Nellie and her family prepared to leave Philadelphia for Denver.
At the convention center she was met by the chair of the worship committee who began to explain how the electronic voice would function. Nellie’s strength came forth again. “No”, she said. “The device will be on my lap. The batteries are new, and my rector, Bob Tate, is prepared to come forward with a hand mike to pick up the reading. Nothing else need be done. It will work.”
Next, the question about how, in her wheelchair, she could become part of the group at the altar. It was then shown to her that a very fine ramp of accessibility to the altar had been built especially for this event...the first ever at general convention. That was impressive.
The next morning for the first daily Eucharist of Convention, the altar party gathered with the presiding bishop to begin the procession. As the music soared, and the voices sang, the procession moved gracefully around to the left of the dais, and then together everyone up the ramp of accessibility. Bob Tate carefully maneuvered the chair in which sat the deacon.
When it was time for the Gospel to be read, Nellie was moved forward in her chair. She flipped the switch to her electronic voice, and the Gospel of Matthew filled the hall with clear words.
Much later in the day, as she was moved through the vast exhibit hall of resources for ministry, Nellie was stopped countless times by those wanting to express their thoughts to her. One was unforgetable: The leader of the Deacons in the Diocese of Denver came and bent low to speak directly to Nellie in the chair. He took off his handsome deacon cap made especially for this convention and placed it on her head. “Nellie,” he said loud enough for all to hear, “thank you for lifting our sights and stretching us. If you can do what you do, there is nothing that the rest of us cannot do!”
Nellie continues to live out her personal mission statement:
“My mission is to encourage, enlighten, and inspire with humor and compassion, all whom I meet, especially children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. I urge them to be responsible to each other, the earth, and all sentient beings so they will know their value as children of God.”Please join us again at Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 4 at 8:00 p.m. as we once again gather on Hopkins Terrace and then process up the ramp into the church for worship, as was done at General Convention in the story, at our ramp dedication, Palm Sunday, and will continue to be our new tradition of accessible access in honor of Nellie, Chris, and all those who have and will yet bless us with their presence and teaching.