Church Property Resources

The Office of the Bishop is here to help you with property issues. For support, please contact Chief Financial Officer Kirby Smith, 619-481-5453.

Church buildings have been entrusted to us by those who came before us and require care and attention as we seek to honor them and all they represent. We hope the information here is helpful as you care for the structures entrusted to you.

We hope the guidebook linked below is helpful. It contains: diocesan procedures for receiving approval to dispose of or encumber property, request form, facility use policy, compensation for use of church facilities including suggested fees, exclusive use lease, and more. If you have questions about this guidebook, please contact Kirby Smith.

Electrical Safety

Prevent electrical fires by following some common sense rules:

  • If a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips frequently, this is an indication that the circuit is overloaded. Reduce the number of appliances making demands on that circuit
  • A fuse should be replaced only with one of the same ampere rating.
  • Appliance cords and extension cords should be replaced rather than repaired if the cord is frayed or brittle.
  • Don’t nail or staple appliance cords and extension cords to walls, or lay them under carpeting.
  • Make certain that appliance cords and extension cords are not knotted. Knots may cause the wires to break.
  • For appliances requiring a great deal of electricity (irons, toasters, air conditioners, etc.) do not use regular extension cords. Use special cords with 14-gauge or 16-gauge wires.
  • We recommend you have a periodic inspection by a licensed electrician of the entire electrical system.

Reducing Liability During Construction

Here are some tips on how to reduce your liability as a property owner.

  • Never allow a contractor to work on your property without a contract. The contract should contain a hold harmless agreement that makes the contractor responsible for the defense and any judgment in the event of a lawsuit. In addition, the contract should state that it is the responsibility of the contractor to maintain a safe workspace.
  • Make sure you have solid lease agreements with your tenants. This should include a hold harmless agreement. Make sure you also maintain a current certificate of insurance from your tenant. The certificate should name you and/or the building manager as an additional insured on the tenant’s policy.
  • Before work begins, the contractor should provide the building owner or property manager with certificates of insurance for general liability and worker’s compensation. The certificates should name the building owner and/or building manager as an additional insured on the contractor’s policy. Minimum acceptable limits on the general liability policy should be $1,000,000.
  • All equipment needed to complete the repair and/or improvement is the responsibility of the contractor. Building owners should never loan, or allow a contractor to use, their ladders or tools.
  • As the building owner, you should avoid supervising any work that you hired a contractor to perform. Offering direction to an employee of the contractor could nullify the hold harmless provision of the contract you entered into with the contractor.

These practices won’t ensure that you will not be sued or held liable for damages. They will only help improve your chances of avoiding lawsuits and potential damage awards. As with any other legal document, you should consult with your own attorney for specific legal advice and contract language.

Providing for Disabilities

What will enable people with disabilities to participate fully in your community? Learn about the special needs of people with disabilities in these pages. Some accommodations, such as an accessible bathroom or elevator, are costly, but many, such as higher wattage light bulbs or large-print bulletins, have a minimal price tag. View the list of resources for information, advice and mentoring.

Disabilities FAQ

  • An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a person who has a history or record of such impairment; or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment. For more information, visit the ADA web site.

  • One in five people in the United States has a disability. However, when you add family members who are directly affected by an individual’s disability, almost 50% of the population is impacted by disability.

  • Some people with disabilities need wheelchair accessibility for church functions. Many more with limitations in hearing, vision, or cognitive development, can benefit from such church provisions as an assistive listening system, service materials in large print and adjustments in program planning that recognize their special needs.We are often unaware of those among us with such disabilities and of ways in which a church can serve them, sometimes at little monetary cost. Click on Ways to Make Your Parish More Accessible for a list of a variety of things you can do for little or no cost.

  • There are a number of steps to the process. It is best to find some like-minded people in your congregation who can work on the issue with you. After a group is formed, look at your present needs as a parish. Survey your congregants. Are there people who have trouble hearing the sermon? Or who can no longer read the service bulletin or words of the hymns? Or, who don’t come to coffee hour because the stairs are a barrier? Talk also with people who have stopped coming to church entirely. Include everyone in the process from the beginning; you need all perspectives.Once you determine the needs, begin to put together a plan with short-term and long-term goals. Examine your facility to see what can you can easily do to make worship and community life more inviting: providing large print prayer books and hymnals; installing an assistive listening system to complement your church’s sound system or purchasing one that is portable and not connected to a sound system.

    When systems are in place, education is needed so that ushers are familiar with wheelchair etiquette, know how to explain the use of an assistive listening device, and know how to offer a large-print edition to someone with low vision. You also need to publicize your provisions for disabilities so that those who could benefit from your efforts, will.

    More expensive accommodations will require work with the vestry or bishop’s committee and may require a capital campaign to get the job done. There may be some limited grants available, but most of the work accomplished in churches thus far has come from churches members who live out their commitment to be a house of prayer for all people.

  • That depends upon the individual needs of your congregation.
  • The diocese does not have sufficient funds to make grants to congregations for accessibility projects. Aging buildings, roofs and furnaces come first. However, if you offer services to the community in your buildings you might also be able to get a grant under the ADA.

  • Churches are exempt unless they house community programs in their buildings. If a church runs a nursery school or other community program or rents space to a group that does, the requirements of the ADA apply to that space. The church should work with the provider of the community services to make the space accessible.

  • Check our Visually Disabled and Blind section for information on ordering large-print prayer books and hymnals. Large print service leaflets can easily be produced by any parish with a computer or a copier with enlargement capabilities.

  • Size and style of font can make a big difference. A sans serif font like Arial is best for someone with low vision problems. It is also helpful for the average person sitting in a dim section of the church. Most copying machines can expand the size of type. Have some programs available in larger type. An even better solution is to make it clearer for everybody so people with low vision do not feel like they are standing out in the crowd.

    Making Text LegibleEffective Color Contrast
  • People whose vision is seriously limited have difficulty with the hymnal, even when enlarged. Many find it easier to follow the verses when they are printed as a poem, without the music.

  • Yes, the United States Access Board has published accessibility guidelines for installers, providers and consumers. The brochures are available from the Federal Access Bureau website.

  • No, absolutely not. The U.S. Access Board brochures for providers of assistive listening systems explain exactly why this is not possible.

  • It won’t boom if the assistive listening system is properly installed and you do need a body mike. The preacher and celebrant do not need to raise their voices; the sound will go directly through the Assisted Listening System (ALS) to those who are connected to it.

  • You should have expert help, whether a consultant to advise you on how to install it yourself or a professional to do the whole job.

  • Grace Church, lower Manhattan, has a good sound system with a Telex FM Assistive Listening System (ALS) system in the church and meeting rooms and a ministry for monitoring and maintaining the receivers.

  • CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. With CART, everything that is said is captioned live, like court reporting except what is said is displayed on a large screen. Your church may not have the funds for captioning services; CART is best used at large gatherings, particularly in places where the acoustics make it difficult to hear. It does not, however, take the place of sign language interpreters for people who are deaf and communicate with American Sign Language.

  • There is an Episcopal Disability Network. You may find that the information about some disabilities may be more complete than about others.

  • You should be able to participate fully; you are not a disabled person, you are a person with a disability. You may have to break new ground; the Office of the Bishop is here to help. Contact Hannah Wilder.

Vision Limited and Blind Resources

Large Print Materials and Books in Braille
Forward Movement Publications
412 Sycamore Street
Cincinnati OH 45202-4195
Forward Day by Day in large print
Other large print materials – Call Forward Publications for information.
Book of Common Prayer in Braille – 13 volumes
Forward Day by Day in Braille
(513) 721-6659 or (800) 543-1813
(513) 421-0315

Bibles for the Blind and Visually Handicapped
3408 Rosehill Road
Terre Haute IN 47805

Lighthouse International Center
111 E. 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
(800) 334-5497 or (212) 821-9200

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
AFB Headquarters
11 Penn Plaza
New York NY 10001
(212) 502-7600
(212) 502-7777
AFB Information Center (800) 232-5463
Excellent guide for quitting smoking with benefits for eye health

Unite for Sight
Works to eliminate preventable blindness

Affordable Colleges Online
How colleges help visually impaired students succeed

Deaf Resources

Deaf Community Services of San Diego
3930 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103

Deaf Seniors Foundation of Palm Springs
P.O. Box 1329
Palm Springs, CA 92263-1329

California Association of the Deaf
Deaf Californians empowered with preserved American Sign Language, productive life, and ensured equal opportunities.
Facebook Page

Deaf Bilingual Coalition
Promotes the basic human right of all deaf babies and children to have access to language and cognitive development through American Sign Language.

American Sign Language Interpreters
Interpreter services nationwide. Receive a quote online.

Steps to Accessibility

    1. Develop a section of resources on disability concerns in your church library.
    2. Look for opportunities to learn about disabilities and disability issues in your community.
    3. Visit accessible churches in your area.
    4. Invite outside speakers to talk about the issues and needs of people with disabilities
    5. Explore in sermons and discussions groups the difference between curing and healing.
    6. Set aside a bulletin board to display information and materials related to your accessibility project.
    1. Provide the bulletin with complete service in large print.
    2. Purchase large-print copies of the Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer.
    3. Use the lectionary from the website in large print.
    4. Use a font without serifs (Arial) for all printed materials.
    5. Apply brightly colored, textured strips at the tops of stairs to indicate that stairs are being approached. This helps people with limited vision and anyone carrying something that blocks his or her vision.
    6. Survey church lighting to be sure wattage is high enough and that placement of fixtures ensures maximum visibility.
    7. If there is the potential for need, install signs in braille or raised letters.
    8. Allow front row seating for people who do not see well.
    1. Allow front row seating for congregants who are hard of hearing.
    2. Discourage delivery of the sermon from the center aisle; a moving speaker is hard to hear.
    3. Survey your microphone and sound system to make sure it meets the needs of those with hearing loss.
    4. Include people with hearing loss in the planning and purchase of a sound system with assistive listening system.
    5. Borrow one of the listening systems that the diocese can loan to you. Contact Hannah Wilder.
    6. Set up a test demonstration of the system for everyone to try out. Hearing loss is stigmatized and those who could benefit from help are often hesitant to ask for it. You can announce that your church has been asked to test equipment and how it sounds in different parts of the nave.
    7. Install a light-cued fire alarm, selecting one entirely safe; some light frequencies can trigger seizures in people who may be prone to them.
    1. Reduce pews to make space for people in wheelchairs to sit with their families instead of in segregated sections.
    2. Think about converting two side-by-side bathrooms into one accessible unisex restroom.
    3. Provide a paper cup dispenser near your water fountain.
    4. Install long-handled door hardware.
    5. Provide a seat riser for the commode.
    6. Hold all activities in areas that are accessible to everyone. Consider moving the coffee hour to the back of the church.
    7. Involve people with disabilities in all planning for architectural modification.
    1. Educate yourselves about environmentally induced illnesses.
    2. Suggest that your congregants limit the quantity of perfume, hair spray and after-shave lotion they use. Increasing numbers of people allergic to scent.
    3. Designate your church and surrounding grounds as smoke-free areas.
    4. Learn about the needs of people with invisible medical disabilities such as diabetes, asthma, etc.
    1. Take altar flowers and service bulletins to people who are sick or shut in.
    2. Consider recording the sermon or the whole service for people who are homebound.
    3. Provide regular transportation for congregants unable to come otherwise.
    4. Maintain regular communication with people who are homebound so that they may feel part of the community.
    5. Develop a ministry to match people who are willing to drive with those who need the help.
    6. Encourage intergenerational one-on-one relationships.
    7. Consult local nursing homes to ascertain whether your congregation might establish a ministry to and with their residents.
    8. Survey your neighborhood for ways to help people who are disabled, elderly or homebound.
    1. Develop a Christian education day in which participants explore life as a person with a disability – wheelchairs, canes, crutches, blindfolds, special eye coverings that simulate vision disorders and ear plugs to cut out sound.
    2. Watch the video, “The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities,” and host viewings for your congregation. Discuss afterward.
    3. Plan an adult education program to discuss non-architectural barriers to inclusiveness.
    4. Explore ways of including members with disabilities in all aspects of church life.
    5. Seek ways of working with other denominations in your community on projects related to disability access and ministry.