Monday, August 30, 2010

RIP: Howard Leland Rice (1932-2010)

[visual description: Howard L. Rice in a wheelchair, holding a microphone; he's an older white man wearing glasses and a grey suit]

It's been a rough month for disability obituaries. We lost historian Paul Longmore (1946-2010), of course, and activist Barbara Knowlen (1941-2010), and I've recently learned of another: Rev. Howard L. Rice (1932-2010), former chaplain and Professor of Ministry at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, and once the moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA (the annually elected head for the whole denomination). Rice died August 8.

Rice (pictured at left) was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a young man, and used a wheelchair or crutches much of his adult life. (Later in life, the MS diagnosis was changed to spinal cord damage.) As a minister, he experienced first-hand the barriers that church buildings and their congregations present to disabled people, especially to disabled worship leaders. I heard him speak at a conference once, about deciding that he wasn't going to accept speaking invitations at inaccessible churches anymore--it wasn't practical ("If we can't go, we can't come," he noted, on the problem of accessible restrooms), and it wasn't tolerable on any other grounds either. When he did speak from an accessible pulpit once, he declared, "I don’t believe you have to preach from a pulpit. But it’s nice to have the choice."

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