Deaf Church Celebrates National Deaf History Month
By Rev. Dr. Leo Yates, Jr.
“Remembering your history helps us to also remember Christ,” signed Rev. Dr. Leo Yates, a deacon and a son of deaf parents. This sentence from was preached to the congregation of Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf in the Baltimore-Washington Conference on March 26th. It was a special service to recognize National Deaf History Month.
This observance has historically taken place from March 13 to April 15, but beginning with 2023, the has changed it to the the full month of April. This year, the observance date was adjusted due to the liturgical calendar, with Holy Week beginning April 2.
In the sermon, Yates connected general Deaf history, such as the Deaf President Now protests at Gallaudet University--where students and staff protested the board’s initial selection of a hearing candidate over a Deaf candidate in 1988--but primarily focused on Magothy’s own history as part of the Deaf community over the past few decades.
The church’s ministries have included Deaf awareness in the surrounding community, such as hosting ASL classes and Deaf Sensitivity Trainings at nearby police departments. The church also has conducted outreach to the Deaf community, such as visiting Deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates in the nearby prison, Deaf and hard-of-hearing residents in the state psychiatric hospital, and teaching religious education at the nearby Deaf residential schools. Yates emphasized to the congregation that the church’s mission has been constant over the decades – “while you all are raising Deaf awareness and offering outreach to the Deaf community, your primary mission remains the same: to be a faith community for the Deaf community” (most of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing members signed “amen.”)
Following the worship service, the congregants did what many United Methodist churches do: they gathered for a potluck lunch but also continued to reminisce their history while looking forward to their future. Flo Johnson, a founding Deaf member of the Deaf church shared, “this is a Deaf church FOR Deaf people. We wouldn’t want to integrate with a hearing church with an interpreter.” Darlene Koontz, a Deaf lay leader, added, “we don’t want to lose our deaf identity.” Yates reiterated (from his sermon) that “Jesus often saw communities that needed His presence, and the Deaf community in Pasadena, MD and its surrounding communities is no exception.” Alma Andrews, a Deaf Certified Lay Servant showed gratitude for the founding Deaf members and noted that “the church is here now because of those founding members’ faith and commitment” (recognizing Ed and Flo Johnson and Jackie and Jim Strover). Two Deaf homeless persons who joined the special potluck were appreciative for the meal and the fellowship.
As a part of their luncheon, conversations spilled over into their future plans for community outreach that included their upcoming Deaf seniors program in May and a showing of the movie this June, “CODA,” that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2022 about the lives of a deaf family. The collaboration amongst the members to organize and plan their programs is inspiring.
* Magothy UMC of the Deaf is grateful for the financial support from the Baltimore-Washington Conference for supporting the salary of their pastors. The conference’s commitment to social justice makes it possible for the church to minister to others.