The Reverend Dr. Stewart M. Pattison, solo pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church in Lombard, Illinois, has been living — and serving — with multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years.
Although it has been in remission for the past decade, the disease damaged the nerves on the right side of his body. As a result, Rev. Pattison has little to no movement in his right arm. Although he can stand and preach, he cannot lift his right knee. He can walk only short distances with a cane, because, without a functioning knee, his leg drags.
Up until three years ago, Rev. Pattison felt hemmed in by his restrictions: On Sundays he would preach, then need to go sit in his office. If parishioners wanted to comment on his sermon or simply shake his hand after worship, they had to go to him. He could not drop by fellowship hall or stand at the church entrance to chat with them about their week.
Outdoor activities were an even steeper challenge. To get across the grass for a church picnic or down a dirt road for a spiritual retreat, he had to depend on others for help — usually his wife, Bonnie. He couldn’t simply hop in the car to visit a parishioner in the hospital or a nursing home.
“Needing to be pushed in a wheelchair because I have only one good arm was affecting my ability to provide pastoral care,” he said.
Then, in 2016, Rev. Pattison had a providential encounter: He ran into a woman at the airport on a three-wheeled scooter unlike anything he’d ever seen. She worked for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and gladly demonstrated what she liked best about her “very cool” ride.
The scooter is a lightweight, electric wheelchair with large pneumatic wheels that can handle rough terrain. It’s also mobile, folding to about the size of a carry-on suitcase.
“It allows me to be me again!”
“The genius of this chair is, it folds up at the push of a button — an important feature if you have the use of only one hand,” Rev. Pattison said. He immediately realized how freeing it would be to have a scooter of his own.
He applied for, and received, a Shared Grant from the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions and the Presbytery of Chicago for the purchase of the scooter.
“The scooter has really revolutionized my ministry and life,” Rev. Pattison said. “It allows me to be me again! Now I don’t ever go to my office on Sundays — I can quickly get to the back of the church and greet my congregation as they exit.” It also enables him to independently visit members of his congregation in hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes.
In addition to the access to people it gives him, Rev. Pattison appreciates that, compared with a regular wheelchair, the seat in the scooter is higher, putting him almost “eye to eye” with congregants.
“The Board of Pensions and the Presbytery of Chicago got behind me 100 percent. Their generosity has enabled me to continue in full-time ministry,” Rev. Pattison said.
“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the scooter. It’s like getting new legs!”
The Assistance Program provides a wide range of need-based grants to active and retired ministers, employees, and their families. Last year, the Assistance Program gave out 1,157 grants, for a total of $5.5 million. The Board’s careful stewardship of its resources makes possible grants like those that have made such a difference in Rev. Pattison’s life.