Raising deaf awareness on the Western Slope

September 25, 2018
Submitted by Glenna Brayton
Member, First United Methodist Church, Grand Junction, Colorado

When the Rev. Steve Easterday-McPadden asked church member Glenna Brayton to sign hymns during worship, her response was “sure.” This meant learning to sign more than the 20 words she knew from the offertory she was working on at the time.
Since Rev. Easterday-McPadden’s invitation to sign hymns, many people have shared stories of family and friends in the deaf and hard of hearing community being isolated from church and worship.
In a recent article from DisAbility Ministries of The United Methodist Church, the Rev. Leo Yates Jr. reminds us that Deaf Awareness Week is Sept. 24-30. Yates points out that this week is an act of hospitality. More deaf and hard of hearing people are attending hearing churches, in part because they wish to attend worship with their hearing family members. Since hospitality is about welcoming, having an interpreter is an outward practice to welcome the deaf and hard of hearing.
Through active hospitality, churches can be inviting and accessible by offering such things as a captionist (a person typing on a laptop with words projected on a screen), making copies of the sermon available, having a sign language interpreter, ensuring that the microphone is used consistently during worship so ALL can hear what is said, or including a song of signed music.  First United Methodist Church of Grand Junction, Colorado has started this with a hymn signer.
Yates points out that “Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando, FL, is a hearing church with a Deaf ministry. It hosts a Deaf Awareness Sunday event where the Deaf members help lead worship, invite a guest preacher who signs, and their Deaf choir performs. Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf (a Deaf and hearing congregation) in Pasadena, MD, has a potluck luncheon in honor of The International Day of the Deaf (held on Sunday) and hosts a free ASL class for the community.
Billy Deters of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Titusville, Florida is also president of the United Methodist caucus United Methodist Congress of the Deaf. Deters says "Our church loves when persons who are deaf or hard of hearing come worship with us. We're talking to our pastor about doing something special."
At Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, the pastor for the congregation of those deaf and hard of hearing Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth, shared, ‘sign language offers grace to hearing people, it is a means of grace. We extend hospitality and accessibility all year long. Truly, many Deaf people are stewards of grace and they have so much to offer the wider church.’”
In an interview, Glenna stated that even after several months of hymn signing people still thank her for it. Because she isn’t fluent enough to sign all the hymns and songs, she said, “It’s always a surprise to me when it comes together, but apparently it’s a blessing to all of us. Pastor Steve told me the other day that he’s looking forward to my signing the entire worship service. I should live so long!”

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