Navigating Deaf Ministries During a Pandemic
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.
Changing requirements in maintaining and expanding our faith communities comes in waves for church leaders. Learning through a lot of trial and error, best practices have emerged to support churches during the COVID-19 pandemic. One aspect of this is found in navigating Deaf ministries, which includes diverse aspects such as accessibility, programming, and dynamic worship for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons and their families.
A recent webinar hosted by three presenters partly addressed these ideas. Esther Choi, a Deaf Korean-American, explained how COVID-19 has hit the Deaf community hard, in particular, Deafblind persons who often rely on proximity and touch. Masks were touched on as most Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons rely on facial expressions, or, for some, lip-reading (here's a vendor list for clear masks). Choi emphasized the need to continue reaching out to our Deaf siblings. She was particularly pleased how her Deaf congregation at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church has been navigating virtual services and alternative programming.
Another webinar presenter, Rosalind McKelvey, an African-American sign language interpreter and Deaf ministry coordinator at Grace United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, PA encouraged webinar viewers to make further considerations when exploring inclusion of Deaf and hard of hearing persons. Briefly discussed were some of the signs within the Deaf community and among interpreters related to recent uprisings from the death of George Floyd. It is clear that Black Deaf communities have been impacted by racial tensions and the need for social change. Through creativity and commitment, McKelvey shared about the weekly virtual camp her church had recently hosted. It brought persons together, young and old, to participate and be in community.
Rev. Leo Yates, a deacon serving in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, was the third presenter. He shared ideas about how to promote and expand Deaf ministries while emphasizing the need for accessible virtual services and programming. For instance, the use of captioning, alternative video platforms like Google Meet, which already has a captioning feature, along with social media blasts of promoting were explained. Most importantly, the need for prayer is seen as vital. Participants were encouraged to learn about the Deaf community’s history and struggles, including the Black Deaf history, white Deaf history, and Latinx Deaf perspectives.
It was clear in Jesus’ time when the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, was included and provided accommodations during the naming ceremony (Luke 1:59-63), that we should do the same today. New and creative ways were mentioned, such as the creation of videos (such as this one on passing the peace) by Karen Miller, a Deaf Certified Lay Servant (CLS), and Carol Stevens, a CLS and a long-time sign language interpreter, in the Pen-Del Annual Conference. Emmanuel UMC in Laurel, MD is hosting a church cluster virtual sign language class starting in September to raise Deaf awareness and accessibility where more outreach can be made by various faith communities.
Creativity is the sky! The alternative is simply audism and that’s not the Good News we wish to share. Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons and their families need hope like the rest of us during times such as these.
* Rev. Yates can be reached at RevYates@eumclaurel.org to discuss Deaf ministry support.
A one-page document with Deaf ministry ideas and resources can be found here.
More information about Deaf ministries can be found at the UM Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-hearing website.