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New ministry reaches out to hearing impaired in the Upstate

By Jessica Connor

SPARTANBURG — One Upstate church is embarking on a new ministry to more fully include the hearing impaired in worship.

Since late January, Central United Methodist Church, Spartanburg, has been reaching out to the large deaf community in their area. They have hired a sign language interpreter who translates every word of the weekly worship service, and they also have a magnetic loop so people who have hearing aids can instantly be connected to the service through a T-switch.

Home to the S.C. School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Spartanburg area has a thriving and active deaf community.

But, said Central pastor the Rev. Alex Stevenson, We are the only United Methodist church in the area that does this “ everyone else is Baptist, and we thought the deaf community would appreciate some options. 

A personal connection

Stevenson knows firsthand how difficult it is for the hearing impaired to fully participate in worship. His wife is hearing impaired, and his daughter lost her hearing in the first grade. While they can    follow along by looking at a printed sermon, having a sign language interpreter makes for an infinitely better church experience.

It s a lot easier, especially in Sunday school classes, for her to participate,  Stevenson said of his daughter, Mary, a rising senior at Winthrop University who attends Central most weekends. She can read lips well, but when there is a conversation going on, it s hard to catch everybody. Having an interpreter to sign it all helps her follow along, be more involved and engaged. 

Mary said she is really excited that the church is starting to reach out to the deaf community.

An interpreter helps me by making sure that I have all the information I need concerning what s going on,  she said. I have worshipped where there wasn t an interpreter, and it was a little more difficult because I wasn t able to get all the information that everyone else got. 

Reaching out

Central is now heavily focused on spreading the word throughout the Upstate about their new Deaf Ministry. They received a grant from the UMC s Spartanburg District Congregational Development, which is paying for one year of interpreters, along with advertising to let the deaf community know about their new ministry. They are reaching out through local newspapers, their website, signage on the busy thoroughfare outside their church, and the ever-effective word of mouth.

We just want to do all we can to let people in our neck of the woods know there is a United Methodist church that is ready to receive and welcome and include deaf and hearing impaired people,  Stevenson said.

John Simmons, member of the Deaf Ministry committee, said he thinks having a sign language interpreter makes for a much more meaningful worship experience for the hearing impaired, plus it means those who might not have heard the Gospel through traditional methods now have an opportunity.

There is nobody who should be excluded from the Jesus message and the Jesus ministry and the healing,  Simmons said.

Grier Diangikes, a member of the committee who has taught the hearing impaired, feels the word of God should be accessible in any language “ English, Spanish, French or sign.

I ve always felt anywhere someone wanted to come to hear God speak, they should be entitled to an interpreter,  Diangikes said. We do it in schools, we mainstream students, and churches are made to make it easy for everyone to worship. 

Central offers sign interpreting every Sunday at 11 a.m.; all are welcome. Central UMC is located at 233 North Church St., Spartanburg. For more information about Central s Deaf Ministry, call 864-582-7263 or visit www.centralumcspartanburg.org .

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