United Methodists hold church’s first global deaf conference
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
Candis Shannon (with microphone), president of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf, welcomes people to the conference.
July 20, 2005
By Erik Alsgaard*
BALTIMORE (UMNS) — An
international gathering of deaf, hard-of-hearing and late-deafened
people drew more than 200 participants for the first ever Global United
Methodist Conference of the Deaf.
The July 14-17 event,
hosted near Baltimore by the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United
Methodist Congress of the Deaf, was the culmination of years of hopes,
dreams and plans. Mainly, it was about missions.
“Our dream is to see
the mission outreaches that we’ve all been in contact with under one
roof,” said the Rev. Peggy Johnson, pastor of Christ United Methodist
Church of the Deaf in Baltimore, one of only three deaf congregations in
the denomination. “This is a conference where people will tell what’s
happening in mission in their country” in the deaf community, she said.
The Methodist family
has a long history of sending missionaries outside the United States to
provide education and resources for deaf people. As far back as the
1850s, Methodist missionaries were running schools for the deaf in
One result of that work
today is the Rev. Joo Hai Kang, an ordained Presbyterian pastor serving
four deaf communities and a deaf United Methodist church in the
Illinois Great Rivers Annual (regional) Conference.
“I became deaf at the
age of 2,” he said, speaking through an interpreter, “and I went to a
deaf school in Korea.” That school has its roots in the 1850s Methodist
Joo established a deaf
church in 2001 and has formed two or three other Bible study groups in
southern Illinois. He said he serves four different areas as a
The conference, which
used no less than six simultaneous sign-language interpreters during
sessions plus computer-assisted real time translations, offered
participants a chance to learn what deaf communities in other countries
are doing in mission and ministry.
“The Koreans, for
example, are doing some really landmark kinds of ministries with
enormous numbers of ordained deaf pastors,” Johnson said. “So we hope to
sit at their feet and learn how they do evangelism.”
In Zimbabwe, society is
anti-deaf, said David Ennis, president of the Northeastern Jurisdiction
deaf organization, a co-leader of the conference and member of
Middletown United Methodist Church in Frederick, Md.
“They don’t have much
of a ministry in Zimbabwe,” Ennis said through an interpreter, “but it’s
starting to get a Methodist ministry there and helping them to be able
to be established on their own.”
Ennis traveled to
Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2001, helping set up a deaf ministry in Kenya and
empowering the people there to support themselves.
Conference leaders highlighted a need for increased ministry and leadership in the church’s deaf community.
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
Quintilian of Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Baltimore
interprets during the Global Conference of the Deaf.
Joo said he prayed more
deaf people would go into ministry. “Deaf people feel more comfortable
when they are around other deaf people; it creates a culture.”
Although the conference
itself was not designed for local churches wanting to learn how to do
deaf ministry, the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf is eager to
serve as a resource.
“One of the goals of
this body, from a national level on down, is to be a resource for local
churches that want to expand or enter into deaf or hard-of-hearing
ministry,” said Michelle Menefee, a member of First United Methodist
Church in Houston and of the Congress of the Deaf’s national board. She
served as one of many American Sign Language interpreters during the
“Deaf ministry is not
just somebody signing the worship service on Sunday morning,” she said.
“It needs to be every bit as comprehensive as you would have children’s
or youth or any other type ministry.”
Menefee told excitedly
how her home church began a signing ministry eight years ago for two or
three people, only to have the ministry expand to include
hard-of-hearing adults and several autistic children.
“We ended up serving a
much broader group of people without ever realizing that was going to
happen,” she said. “What we didn’t know about was that God had a whole
lot of other people there that we didn’t know about.”
|Photo courtesy of The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Michelle Menefee (right) translates Candis Shannon's remarks into American Sign Language.
The rate of hearing
loss in the United States is expanding at an alarming rate, said Candis
Shannon, member of First United Methodist Church in Fairbanks, Alaska,
and president of the Congress of the Deaf. This is a growing group of
people, she said, and a growing ministry for the church.
“So many people go to
church that are hard of hearing and they can’t understand,” Shannon
said. She noted that many, inexpensive communication tools are available
for local churches to help, from assisted-listening devices to
computer-assisted note taking and projection.
Resources available to churches include:
- “Signs of Solidarity:
Ministries with People Who Are Deaf, Late-Deafened, Hard of Hearing, and
Deaf-Blind,” published by the National Committee on Ministries with
Deaf, Late-Deafened, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind People, and the
Health and Welfare Ministries Unit of the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries. Available for $7 per copy from Service Center, 7820
Reading Road, Caller No. 1800, Cincinnati, OH 45222-1800.
- The Congress of the Deaf’s Web site, www.umcd.org.
- American Sign Language translations of The Faith We Sing and The United Methodist Hymnal from the United Methodist Publishing House, at (800) 672-1789 or www.cokesbury.com.
“Once you get past the
communications technology, then you get to the real issues, and that’s
communication between people,” Shannon said. “The real gifts that people
have to give come to the fore.”
For this group, that is what it’s all about.
“We’ve been praying for
Pentecost,” said Menefee, talking about the challenges of putting on a
conference using many different sign languages. “This conference has had
all the makings of a Tower of Babel, but we’ve been praying for
Pentecost. It feels like maybe that’s what we’re going to see.”
*Alsgaard is managing editor of the UMConnection newspaper and co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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