Religions must get rid of the physical, communicative and attitudinal barriers that make it hard for the mentally and physically handicapped to worship God, the Rev. Harold Wilke told an audience in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Wilke was in Salt Lake City to participate in the national observance of Barrier Awareness Day. Salt Lake City was the host city for the fifth annual observance.He spoke at the interfaith observance in the Tabernacle Saturday night and again Sunday morning in the Tabernacle as part of Music and The Spoken Word.
Wilke is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Born without arms, Wilke has traveled through the world promoting acceptance of people with handicaps.
"I do all the normal things instead of playing the piano." He uses his toes as fingers and his feet as arms, he said.
Wilke urged churches to be more creative in communicating their religious services. If there are people who are visually impaired in the congregation, worship service bulletins should be printed in braille or large print.
For the deaf, the service should be signed, he said.
"For the developmentally retarded, the Word of God should be proclaimed not only in words, but in drama, song, procession, color and all the varied ways that God's promise to humankind can be stated," he said.
Churches should be designed and modified with the handicapped in mind, he said. "Even one step in front of the church means `Keep Out!' for anybody in a wheelchair or on crutches or with the infirm ankles of an aging person."
Attitudinal barriers can be some of the most insidious. "Attitudes that say `second class status' to a person with a disability are wrong in churches and in society. God sees everyone as whole. If God be for you, who can be against you?" he said.
William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the television show, M*A*S*H, and Emma Lou Thayne, a Salt Lake writer, also spoke at the observance Saturday night.