logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
March 2012Vol. 2 No. 3
basket containing assistive listening device receivers and a stack of Breaking the Sound Barrier in your Church booklets
Basket of Assistive Listening Device Receivers


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 

One of our partner organizations within the United Methodist denomination is the UM Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries (DHM).  I was privileged to attend their recent annual meeting on behalf of the Task Force and to meet the Committee members, some of whom are introduced below.  The Committee shares in our mission: Through advocacy, education and empowerment, the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries will lead the UMC in creating a culture where people with disabilities are fully included in all aspects of worship, leadership and ministry.  Their focus is on equipping churches for Deaf ministry.  They work to empower persons who are Deaf (the capital "D" signifies someone who is part of the Deaf culture and community, and who communicates in American Sign Language) to become leaders and self-advocates.  The Committee also addresses issues persons who are late-deafened, hard of hearing, and Deaf-blind face within the church.  


The Task Force has a petition before General Conference to move to a similar Committee status to ensure that our work is ongoing.  Please keep these deliberations in your prayers.   If you are attending General Conference as an observer and available to help with a Disability Awareness presence, please contact us.


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Pastors with Hearing Loss Called to Deaf Ministry
UM Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Meets
Technology and Supports Provide Communication Inclusion

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Pastors with Hearing Loss Called to Deaf Ministry 

While many hard of hearing and late-deafened persons do not learn sign language, the United Methodist church and the UM Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries (DHM) are blessed with the involvement of three hard of hearing pastors who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).  Each story and ministry is different, but a common thread is the welcome and acceptance received when each person was first exposed to
Deaf churches and culture. 

Rev. Lisa Jordan has a three part assignment.  She is chaplain for Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, the only Deaf liberal arts university in the US.  In that role she offers

Pastor Lisa Jordan
Pastor Lisa Jordan

Bible studies, prayer meetings, and mostly an available presence for students.  She finds that many Deaf students are anti-religious because "as children they were forced to attend hearing churches without any accommodations and had no idea of what was going on.  Who would want to go a church that basically excluded them?"

Lisa is pastor at Magothy UMC of the Deaf in Pasadena MD, where she plans worship, preaches in ASL, and leads Bible studies.  The church consists mostly of persons who are culturally Deaf, with a few family members, interpreters, and persons learning sign language also attending.  Lisa is also Associate Pastor at Christ UMC of the Deaf in Baltimore.  This is a diverse church which runs a Deaf Shalom Zone.  Members include hard of hearing and Deaf persons, some of whom have cognitive and physical disabilities, from varying socio-economic backgrounds.  Her responsibilities include helping Deaf persons navigate the social system, learn about their rights, and advocate for themselves.  In the congregational diversity Lisa sees a "glimpse into the Kingdom of God, as we worship together and support each other as the body of Christ." 

Lisa started learning sign language during her first career as a music teacher in order to communicate with a Deaf student.  Three years later Lisa began to lose her hearing but by then was fluent in ASL.  The affirmation of her calling to the ministry and to Deaf ministry came when she attended a Deaf service led by Rev. Peggy Johnson (now bishop).  Engaging with Deaf people in churches and camps, she felt "richly blessed by what they taught me, their willingness to include me, and their help to improve my signing skills out of a spirit of love." 

Lisa's hearing loss is now in the profound range.  She feels fortunate to live in an era where the latest technology helps her stay engaged.  She uses a Voice Carry Over phone system where an interpreter signs to her while she responds verbally to the caller.  Email and texting also make communication easy.  For conference events and meetings she relies on an ASL interpreter.

Rev. Elke Sharma is pastor to the Jacksonville UM Deaf Faith Community Church which shares space with Grace UMC in Jacksonville, IL.  She leads weekly worship in ASL, a

Pastor Elke Sharma
Pastor Elke Sharma

Bible study, and monthly social events for the Deaf community.  The church also has a Deaf UMW unit.  Elke facilitates groups in other communities throughout central IL.  She and her husband are involved in a Deaf mission outreach in India.

Elke became hard of hearing as a child, and struggled to keep up in a hearing world where she couldn't follow what was being said in church, youth group, or the classroom.  She began learning sign language at 11, but when she attended Gallaudet University she "entered the Deaf world and never looked back."  Elke taught English as a Second Language after college.  Attending a United Methodist Congress of the Deaf (UMCD) conference in Oregon led to her calling to the pastorate.  For the first time she experienced a setting where everyone's communication needs were met via ASL, tactile signing for a Deaf-blind person, captioning, and assisted listening systems.  "No one was left out!  This was a way to make God's word accessible for everyone. That was the kind of church I wanted."  Through her involvement in Deaf culture groups she was shocked to find that many Deaf people had no spiritual life at all.  She realized "they didn't have a faith or something to believe in."  She wanted to be part of a solution, because "everyone needs Jesus in their lives." 

The Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth serves as consultant to the DHM Committee in addition to his appointment as Executive Pastor and Pastor for the Deaf Ministry at Lovers Lane UMC

Pastor Tom Hudspeth
Pastor Tom Hudspeth

in Dallas, TX.  As consultant he supports the Committee and assists churches wanting to start Deaf ministries.  He works to keep the DHM web site current, responds to queries from throughout the denomination, and helps connect churches with resources including international Deaf mission opportunities.

Like Christ Church, the Deaf Church at Lovers Lane draws a diverse group of people to worship each Sunday.  Tom finds that traditional sermons are less effective than a dialogue form of interaction and Bible Study.  Some members also attend the hearing service, aided by ASL interpreters and captioning.  One Deaf member who attends both services plays in the handbell choir.

Tom was born hard of hearing and grew up in a hearing world.  He was teased by classmates about his hearing aid.  He had extensive speech therapy to learn to speak clearly and speech read and worked to pass as hearing.  Tom's first exposure to the Deaf community was at a rally for the Deaf in Oklahoma that he attended during seminary.  His immediate acceptance by the people he met led him to realize that he was called to use all of him in ministry, which included the Deaf part he had tried to repress.  He began learning ASL and has been in Deaf ministry for 12 years.  You can read more of Tom's story in the soon to be published book Speaking Out: The Gifts and Challenges of Ministry Undeterred by Disabilities which contains contributions by 25 pastors with various disabilities.  

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 UM Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Meets to Grow Ministry

The United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministry (DHM) held its annual meeting recently to plan new areas of ministry and outreach and to approve grant requests. 

Chairperson Michelle Martin's opening devotion reminded the group that where "two or more are gathered" they have the power and calling to work together to address unmet needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing within the church.  "We have God with us.  While an individual may not get the attention of the church, a group may succeed."  She stressed the importance of their mission because "Deaf people need to hear that God is love, and that the United Methodist church is about God's love and grace." 


The meeting was held at the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio, which offers a transitional living skills and vocational readiness program for young adults who are Deaf, hard of hearing, or have other disabilities.  Director Jennifer Sample told about the organization's history and current services.  Bishop Jim Dorff of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference also greeted the Committee as did the Rev. Randall Hilburn from the conference committee on Deaf and hard of hearing ministries.

15 members of the DHM committee wearing their white committee shirts
Members attending the 2012 DHM Committee meeting

The DHM Committee is planning a Deaf Mission trip to Kenya, to be coordinated with attendance at the World Deaf Methodist Federation conference in August 2013.  Members will expand on contacts made in 2011 at several schools for children who are Deaf or have disabilities. 

A Committee work group is developing video training for Deaf persons who want to be counselors at camp and for camp deans who want to include campers who are Deaf and hard of hearing.  The videos will include simulated situations, and have ASL and voice narration along with open captioning.  The ASL on video format will also be used on the DHM web site for monthly devotionals written by people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
Because many Deaf churches are small and do not have Deaf pastors, Committee members see a great need for lay speaking training that is interpreted or preferably offered by pastors who are fluent in sign language.  Hiring interpreters is costly, and simply providing an interpreter does not make a presentation Deaf-friendly.  It helps to have more visual content, including projected photos and captioned videos, and more interactional activities such as skits.  The training may need to be offered on a jurisdictional basis or through live video connections. 

Grants were awarded for partial tuition reimbursement for a seminary student who will focus on Deaf ministry and for a local church assisted listening system. Grant funds will also support (including the cost of interpreters) sustainable agriculture training for a young Deaf man who is sensing a call to missions.  Funding is supplemented through gifts to the Advance #982562.


Officers for the coming quadrennium are Jeff Burns, president-elect, Rev. Lisa Jordan, vice-president, and Caroline Koo, secretary.  Plans are underway to meet next year in Lakeland, FL.  The Committee is seeking additional members, especially someone who has an expertise in the technology involved in providing effective Deaf and hard of hearing ministry.  Contact Tom Hudspeth to nominate potential members.


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Technology and Supports Provide Communication Inclusion  for All  

If you have never been to a meeting of Deaf and hard of hearing people, you may be unfamiliar with the technology used so that everyone stays informed throughout the meeting.  Such systems can also be employed for local church, district, and conference level events.

A team of two interpreters was present during the official sessions of the DHM.  In addition

CART provider typing, screen with captions, and ASL interpreter at DHM meeting
CART provider and ASL interpreter

to interpreting spoken words into ASL, the interpreters provided voice interpretation when a member addressed the Committee using ASL.  Because not all persons who are hard of hearing know sign language, the Committee also utilized CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) providers.  This team used court recording technology to project a simultaneous word for word transcript of the entire meeting.  Both teams alternated in approximately 20 minute intervals. 

One member of the Committee is blind and has a significant hearing loss.  Like several other members, she brought a personal FM assisted listening system which connects to her hearing aids.  Members passed her microphone around the room so it was near each speaker.  When something was presented visually, e.g. slides of photos from a mission trip to Haiti, a committee member provided "audio description" to let her know the main content from the photos.

Conference modular table microphones which feed through an assisted listening system were set up on the tables.  The Mardy Walker Memorial Assistive Listening System used for the meeting is available to any church on a loan basis.  The receiving church pays shipping costs and can try it for a month to help discern what might work for them.  The system includes all components needed for free-standing use, including a lapel

Four different types of headset cords
Four styles of headset cords for Assistive Listening Devices

microphone for the speaker, FM system, and sound transmitter.  Three different styles of receivers allow persons with a variety of needs to benefit: earbuds for persons without hearing aids, headphones to be used over the ear for hearing aid users, and neckloops for those who have a T-switch on their hearing aid or cochlear implant hardware.  Check the Guidelines on the Committee website for specifics and a loan application.  For more information contact Carol Williams at the Methodist Mission Home.

Local churches realize the need for amplification for their sanctuaries, and many provide FM assisted listening systems or induction loop technology.  Less common are portable systems to ensure that hard of hearing people attending meetings or classes can take hear everyone's comments and questions in discussions.  The Church of the Messiah (UMC) in Westerville, OH, recently researched such systems.  They purchased a voice tracking array microphone that picks

Anvil shaped Voice Tracker array microphone
Voice Tracker I Array Microphone

up voices from as far as 30 feet away,

individual receivers, and an FM transmitter.  All components are kept on a cart which is wheeled from room to room.  They have had an "enthusiastic response from older people who can now participate actively instead of just sitting passively".  Everyone benefits from the additional input.  The church has been satisfied with the results and is eager to discuss what they have learned with others. 


For more information or to share what has worked for your congregation contact John Wagner, Sr. by phone at 614-895-0243 or by email.

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DOOR International is a non-denominational Christian organization of Deaf people with information on Deaf culture and Deaf worship.

Hearing Loss Association offers a monthly magazine and an informative website.  

The National Court Recorder Association has a national provider directory to help you find CART providers. For more information on CART, refer to Comparison of CART to Alternative Notetaking Methodogies. 

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has a search tool for finding interpreters and a standard practice paper on "Intepreting in Religious Settings".


The following hymnals provide the words only in ASL word order for the hymns of the church.  They are designed to make preparation for signing hymns easier by providing ASL sign suggestions. American Sign Language: A Comprehensive Dictionary by Martin Sternberg is referenced to help the interpreter select the intended sign for a given word: 


American Sign Language Hymns for Signing (United Methodist Hymnal) (1995), edited by

Curt Keller (1995). Abdington Press, available through Cokesbury. 


The Faith We Sing American Sign Language Edition (hymnal supplement), (2004). Abingdon Press, available through Cokesbury.


Other publications:  


The Bible: ASL Version - The New Testament, 5 DVD set of ASL videos, available through Deaf Missions.


Breaking the Sound Barrier in Your Church by Robert L. Walker (2002). 16 page document about accommodations and technology for communication access, available for download in pdf or html versions.Deaf Ministry book cover showing a cross in the palm of a hand


Deaf Ministry: Make a Joyful Silence by Peggy A. Johnson, study guide by Robert L. Walker (2007). BookSurge Publishing,

available through Amazon.  Note: all royalties go to UMC deaf/blind



The First and Only Interdenominational Guide to Religious Signing: A Comprehensive Guide for All Faiths, Revised edition by Elaine Costello (2009). Bantam Books. Available through Cokesbury.


Interpreting at church: A paradigm for sign language interpreters, 2nd edition by Leo Yates, Jr. (2008). BookSurge Publishing, available through Amazon.


Language Needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants and Children: Information for Spiritual Leaders and Communities. By T. Burke, P. Kushalnagar, G. Mathur, D. Napoli, C. Rathmann, and K. VanGilder (2011).  Journal of Religion, Disability, & Health, Vol.15, No. 3, pp 272-295. 


With Heart and Hands and Voices: Songs with Sign Language for Sunday School, Choir, and Worship, by Susan J. Harrison and Debra Tyree (2000).  Abingdon Press, available through Amazon. 


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As we celebrate the new life that the Easter message brings us, may we also find ways to open our churches to new people and new ways of doing ministry.  Share your stories with us!


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United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

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