Deaf United Methodists in the SEJ Commit to Renewal Post-GC
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.
It was a scene that probably had not been a part of Epworth by the Sea before. Deaf, hard of hearing, Deafblind persons, and hearing allies from the Southeastern Jurisdiction descended upon Epworth by the Seas off the coast of Georgia and held a leadership training retreat on March 22-23, 2019. The retreat marked a time of renewal for the SEJ Deaf United Methodists, who are associated with The United Methodist Congress of the Deaf (UMCD), a national United Methodist caucus that advocates for and supports the inclusion and empowerment of Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind individuals and their families in The United Methodist Church. The retreat was supported by Global Ministries and was led by Rev. Leo Yates, Jr., the consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Committee (Global Ministries), and Mary Harris, the coordinator of a Deaf ministry at Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando, FL.
While some organizations are at a wait-and-see juncture after the Special General Conference in St. Louis MO, Deaf leaders in the SEJ (and most other locations) felt that the work in Deaf Ministries cannot sit still. Moving forward with Deaf leadership training and spiritual renewal are crucial for preparing Deaf, hard of hearing, Deafblind, and their hearing allies for ministry. “Wesleyan leadership strategies still need to be taught no matter what happens with any General Conference decisions and Jurisdiction Council rulings,” said Mary Ann Deters, the SEJ president, who is Deaf. “Conway UMC is committed to Deaf Ministries and so are so many other churches in the SEJ, such as St. Andrew UMC in Titusville, FL, among others. Deaf and Deafblind people do not want to sit in the pews - they are our present and future leaders in Deaf Ministries," said Harris.
Yates, a deacon in full connection who presented the Wesleyan training said, “Wesleyan theology, works of piety, works of mercy, and Christian witness are all very relevant in any denomination, whether it is our current denomination or a future break away Methodist denomination. We still need to serve Christ in all times.” Billy Deters, the president of UMCD, echoed the sentiment. He was also present at the Special GC as a special observer.
The retreat consisted of worship, didactic material, small group work, and tours at Christ Church of Frederica, at Epworth, and Fort Frederica, all of which are on St. Simons Island, GA. Tours included locations where John and Charles Wesley served as missionaries during the early Methodist movement.
Having sign language interpreters, Support Service Providers, and the use of visuals helped make the retreat accessible for those who attended. Elizabeth Cody, a Deafblind church member of Conway UMC said, “The location was conducive for everyone, especially Deafblind persons who participated with the assistance of Support Service Providers (similar to guides).”
Mary Ann Deters conducted a SEJ Deaf Ministries business meeting on the last day of the retreat. Among its items, the meeting affirmed a commitment from everyone present.
The group also elected new board members and a first time spiritual advisor position for the SEJ Deaf Ministries. The new board includes:
Mary Ann Deters, President (FL)
Esther Choi, Vice President (GA)
Mary Harris, Secretary (FL)
Richard Stallworth, Treasurer, (AL)
Betty Ostrom, Spiritual Advisor (FL)
Hope is renewed in the SEJ for many Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, Deafblind persons and their families. Increased awareness, fundraising, and improved accessibility were just a few of the goals that came out of the SEJ business meeting. Bishop Peggy Johnson, known for her advocacy work in Deaf and disability ministries, commended the renewal and encouraged the SEJ of the UMCD in their Deaf Ministries work. There’s a lot of advocacy work ahead; however, it makes it more exciting that others are doing it too!
* Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is available for consultation for churches and annual conferences interested in learning how they can begin a Deaf ministry by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.