Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Deaf Church Plants Seeds for Deaf Ministries

By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. 

Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Pasadena, Maryland, a church in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, partnered with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries committee of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries to host a “Deaf Ministry: Boot Camp” workshop. The event was held on Saturday, October 13, 2018. The idea was put into action with assistance from Global Ministries through a grant the church received to support the workshop. 

Participants were United Methodists, as well as from other denominations, some of whom came from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference and the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual conference. Some were newcomers to Deaf ministry, while others were wanting to learn more and leave with new ideas.  

The co-facilitator, Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., shared, “It’s important that churches be more accessible and empowering for Deaf, hard of hearing, and Deafblind persons and their families in the Church, no matter the denomination.” Referencing Luke 14:15-24, he continued, “we are all a part of the body of Christ and being accessible is what Christ calls us to do” as he spoke about welcoming persons with disabilities. By practicing welcoming, God’s house can be full. He went on, using Luke 1:62 to emphasize the inclusiveness of Zechariah’s friends who signed and gestured to him about naming his infant, whom we know as John (the Baptist). Darlene Koontz, a Deaf church leader expressed, “Its important that Deaf people have access to church, which means we need qualified interpreters, but being friendly and welcoming is just as important.” Having Deaf and hard of hearing people help lead the workshop showed their gifts for ministry, said Yates.

The “boot camp” opened with a devotional that highlighted Jesus’ words, “Ephphatha,” from Mark’s gospel, emphasizing “being open” to Deaf and hard of hearing persons and their language and culture (Mark 7:31-37). The typical interpretation shows the Deaf-mute was healed; however, the devotion showed that the community was healed because they were now open to this Deaf man. The workshop went on to orient participants to Deaf culture. This included an introduction to sign language, led by the church’s Deaf lay leader, Darlene Koontz. Then the empowerment of Deaf leadership was explained by the church’s Deaf Finance Committee chairperson, Alma Andrews. Following this, the inclusion of Deaf music worship was shared by one of the founders of the Deaf church, Flo Johnson. Considerations for an interpreting ministry, the implementation of a hard of hearing ministry, and a disability ministry were also covered in the workshop. In addition, overviews highlighting accessibility, mission opportunities, raising Deaf awareness and inclusion, various Deaf ministry models, how to promote the ministry, and best practices were presented by the workshop co-facilitators, Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. and Jeanne Maddox. The church’s pastor, Rev. Emily Hart, shared resources about Deaf Ministries in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants prayed with and encouraged each other in their endeavors to have their own ministry. Some already have such a ministry, most hope to expand their reach, based on new ideas such as adopting a Deaf group home or a group home with persons with disabilities during the holidays. Other ideas include hosting sign language classes for new parents and their infants (teaching baby signs while connecting new families to a faith community).

Table with banner "ASL day" and papers showing basic ASL
A model table for ASL Days at Deaf awareness events

Person at a table from Global Ministries, there are many brochuress
One of the participants checks out the Global Ministries table

two people look at a table,  on their right is a banner, "Welcome"
Two participants from Pennsylvania check out an exhibit

A woman signs behind a lectern, a screen behind her projects the words
Deaf worship leader, Flo Johnson, signs "Amazing Grace"

a woman near a lectern signing, behind her is a projected screen
Deaf church leader, Darlene Koontz explaining about Deaf culture.

A closer view of the same setting, another woman signing about leadership
The church’s finance chairperson sharing about empowering Deaf persons for leadership.

People seated around tables, working with each other
Workshop participants engaged in an activity

Leo leads a session, he is signing in front of a projected screen
Presenter, Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., explained about past experiences of oppression Deaf persons had at church

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