Sign langauge interpreter Joshua Holmes translates the message for the deaf and hearing impaired at Central UMC, Spartanburg, SC.
One Upstate church is embarking on a new ministry to more fully include the hearing impaired in worship.
Since late January, Central United Methodist Church, Spartanburg, has been reaching out to the large deaf community in their area. They have hired a sign language interpreter who translates every word on the weekly worship service, and they also have a magnetic loop so people who have hearing aids can instantly be connected to the service through a T-switch. The World Service Fund supports ministries that create new place for new people.
Home to the S.C. School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Spartanburg area has a thriving and active deaf community.
But, said Central pastor the Rev. Alex Stevenson, “We are the only United Methodist church in the area that does this – everyone else is Baptist, and we thought the deaf community would appreciate some options. The World Service Fund supports ministries that create new place for new people.
Stevenson knows firsthand how difficult it is for the hearing impaired to fully participate in worship. His wife is hearing impaired, and his daughter lost her hearing in the first grade. While they can follow along by looking at a printed sermon, having a sign language interpreter makes for an infinitely better church experience.
“It’s a lot easier, especially in Sunday school classes, for her to participate,” Stevenson said of his daughter, Mary, a rising senior at Winthrop University who attends Central most weekends. “She can read lips well, but when there is a conversation going on, it’s hard to catch everybody. Having an interpreter to sign it all helps her follow along, be more involved and engaged.”
Central is now heavily focused on spreading the word throughout the Upstate about their new Deaf Ministry. They received a grant from the UMC’s Spartanburg District Congregational Development, which is paying for one year of interpreters, along with advertising to let the deaf community know about their new ministry. They are reaching out through local newspapers, their website, signage on the busy thoroughfare outside their church, and the ever-effective word of mouth.
John Simmons, member of the Deaf Ministry committee, said he thinks having a sign language interpreter makes for a much more meaningful worship experience for the hearing impaired, plus it means those who might not have heard the Gospel through traditional methods now have an opportunity.
“There is nobody who should be excluded from the Jesus message and the Jesus ministry and the healing,” Simmons said.
Grier Diangikes, a member of the committee who has taught the hearing impaired, feels the word of God should be accessible in any language – English, Spanish, French or sign.
“I’ve always felt anywhere someone wanted to come to hear God speak, they should be entitled to an interpreter,” Diangikes said. “We do it in schools, we mainstream students, and churches are made to make it easy for everyone to worship.”
— excerpt from a story Jessica Conner, SC Ann Conf Advocate
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