Chautauqua provides a wide variety of services of worship and programs that express the Institution’s Christian heritage, as well as its interfaith commitment. Now, thanks to a gift of time and countless hours of dedicated transcription, worship will not only be inclusive of different faith traditions, but also offer a more inclusive experience for those who come to the services.
For the first time in 2019, new braille worship service books and hymnals are being provided for morning worship at Chautauqua. These resources have made it possible for people who read braille to fully participate in morning worship.
Roger Chard and his wife, Maurita Holland, are longtime Chautauquans who have been coming to the grounds for 39 years. Chard is blind, and the new braille books have enabled him to follow along with morning worship. Chard said the morning worship service is organized into three parts: the prayers and responsive readings with the liturgist of the day, the hymns and the sermon.
“The sermon, of course, has nothing to do with the worship books, but the prayers and responsive readings are something that a braille user now can fully participate in, whereas before, you didn’t participate at all,” Chard said. “The hymns, you now have the opportunity to sing them, just like anybody else in the congregation.”
Holland said this type of inclusivity is what Chautauqua is all about. Morning worship is now more accessible to a wider range of Chautauquans and she thinks that the effort is making a great impact at the Institution.
“It really means that a blind person can now participate with everybody else in the congregation,” Holland said. “We love Chautauqua so very much, and with Roger being able to participate much more fully, it’s great.”
The project was initiated by coincidence, when Chautauquan Joan Shortle was visiting with Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, last summer.
“I happened to mention that I was a braillist providing braille materials for blind students in several of our school districts,” Shortle said. “Tina, upon hearing this, told me about being approached by Roger Chard, who had inquired whether Chautauqua had any copies of the worship book in braille. When I heard about the need, I volunteered immediately.”
Shortle has found her career as a braillist to be very fulfilling, and the opportunity to use her talents to help fellow Chautauquans particularly rewarding.
“It was a joy to be able to transcribe the worship books, which hopefully will provide Roger and others the opportunity to participate more fully in morning worship,” Shortle said.
The new hymnals have changed morning worship and have already made a positive impact on a number of visually impaired Chautauquans.
“We at the Department of Religion are deeply touched and so very grateful for Joan’s unique skill, and the dedicated work of her transcription of the morning prayers and hymns into braille,” said Maureen Rovegno, director of religion.
Rovegno said the introduction of these hymnals has made it possible for even more people to participate in worship, and that the inclusivity is remarkable.
“We value and strive for inclusivity for all Chautauquans in all aspects of the Chautauqua experience,” Rovegno said. “Their inspiration and initiative have allowed for and made possible the fullness of worship for our sight-impaired congregants to autonomously participate in our weekday worship services. We could not be more delighted and grateful.”
Braille worship service books and hymnals are available by request at Gate 4, the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation Gate. Community members are encouraged to ask any usher for assistance.