ELBURN—The installation of a new hybrid lift at Community Congregational Church (CCC) of Elburn will enable parishioners and guests with disabilities to once again access the sanctuary—a priority for the church, despite the lift’s $70,000 price tag.
“We are in the process of attempting to practice radical hospitality,” Rev. Bennett McNeal said. “We are in many ways traditional. We are a mainline Protestant church, but what we want to do in the community is practice a radical hospitality, and by that I mean we want to be welcoming to everybody. And this is one way to demonstrate how we’re doing that.”
The church, located at 100 E. Shannon St., has several parishioners who cannot climb the stairs into the church’s sanctuary. Changes to the Illinois building code forced the CCC to stop using its elevator, which had been custom built more than 30 years ago by Chuck Conley and was still functional.
Dave Royer, a church member who worked on plans to obtain a new elevator, determined that installing a new ADA-compliant elevator would cost the CCC about $200,000 more than installing a hybrid lift.
The lift itself functions much like an elevator. Though an elevator has different hydraulics than a hybrid lift, the lift is located in the elevator shaft and has doors that open and close automatically.
“It looks and acts like an elevator, but we can’t call it an elevator,” McNeal said.
The CCC has spent more than two years raising the money for the project and investigating the most cost-effective options, and church members 10 months ago voted to approve the installation of the lift. Two members, Dave Royer and Carl Diesel, spent many hours modifying the old elevator shaft to accommodate the hybrid lift in order to save the church money.
“These two guys, they are very gifted and talented in many ways, and Carl is actually an electrician,” McNeal said. “If we had to pay them for the hours they put in, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
The CCC raised the money for the new hybrid lift, which was dedicated on May 12, as well as a handicapped access door that opens with the push of a button, from several sources. The access door will be installed by June.
Though the church declined to say how much it had earned from the sale of the parking lot on the southeast corner of Shannon and Main streets to Ream’s Meat Market last year, the money was put into the church’s reserve fund.
“The sale of the parking lot really contributed to our ability to do this, and we were able to use some of those capital funds,” McNeal said.
A generous donation from the family of David Compton toward installing a hybrid lift also helped finance the project, church moderator Mary Royer said.
“When (David) was a member of the church, he faithfully ran the elevator every morning, and when he died a couple of years ago, (the Comptons) gave a memorial gift in his honor,” Mary said. “I know they are proud to be a part of it.”
McNeal said the church had applied for a grant to make churches ADA accessible, as well, but did not receive one.
Installing the lift was a big expense for a smaller congregation, but McNeal said that the church was determined to do it because of its philosophy of radical hospitality. He thanked the church council for being willing to spend the money.
“They showed the leadership to do something and take a leap of faith to spend money that some might argue we should keep in reserve for a rainy day,” he said. “Instead, the council showed some real leadership to get this project done. Sharon Lackey and Mary Royer, along with others, have made contributions to make this possible.”
McNeal also thanked the CCC congregation, which voted unanimously to approve spending the money to install the new hybrid lift.
One wheelchair-bound member who had not been able to attend church in a long time has already begun attending services again, Mary said.
“The smile on her face was the biggest I had seen in a long time,” Mary said. “We’re all very proud of it.”
The hybrid lift makes the sanctuary and the third floor accessible not only to parishioners, but to the church’s many guests, McNeal said.
In addition to the guests that attend weddings and funerals held in the church, the CCC also hosts a number of community groups and organizations. It is the charter organization for the Elburn Boy Scouts, and it hosts the local Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts meetings, as well.
“We want to let the community know that we are here; that we are available and accessible to the community,” McNeal said. “When we say every Sunday morning, ‘No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,’ this is a very tangible way of making that statement.”