Interpreting in Church for Deaf Persons

From Reading The Signs . . .
A can-do forum about accessibility for the whole church family

“Today, I knew what was happening. It was like a Thanksgiving song,” Sherryl Yokel’s voice greeted her pastor. Later, Mrs. Yokel added, “I feel more comfortable in church now. I understand the [choir’s] songs and what Bob says.”

“It is a lot different for us, really a great feeling, to talk together about the sermon,” husband William said. “Sherryl never had that opportunity to hear and understand.”

Mr. Yokel, then chair of the diaconate at the United Church of Christ in Friend, NE, arranged for the interpreting. “Robyn was so excited when the diaconate and church council said it was a ‘Go,'” he said. “It is wonderful to have a person give up her hour twice a month to come to another church to interpret.”

“Everybody has a right to learn through their eyes or their ears,” Robyn Weber said. “I am here as a tool to help one person understand.”

An employee of a Friend day care center, Mrs. Weber, a resident of Friend, gained interpreting certification through The Nebraska Commission For The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing. She began formal classes in American Sign Language several years ago after becoming the only remaining family member who could sign for a relative. Recently at a workshop on worship signing sponsored by NCDHH and Lincoln Association For Sign Language Professionals, she recognized her second calling.

Weber uses Elaine Costello’s Religious Signing (Bantam Books, 1986) to study choral music during weekly choir practices and before interpreting the sermon and other worship material the pastor gives her beforehand. At first, the Reverend Robert Brauninger said he watched her interpret. “Now, I concentrate on making my points succinct. I let her do her work while I do mine.”

“Children’s time is one of my fun times,” Weber said. I put a little more expression into it because it is spontaneous, and Sherryl and Will get to hear their two-year-old’s comments.”
Warmed by a newly found empathy, members of the congregation enjoy the two mothers’ informal finger chats during the hymns. Robyn uses this rest break for Sherryl’s questions. Sometimes they slip in “mom talk” about their children.

Reading the Signs columns, written by members of the Nebraska Conference Disabilities Ministries board, are offered for use by Conference and Local Church newsletters as an accessibility tool.

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