d/Deaf* ministry is a ministry or program that has a primary focus of being in ministry with d/Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, d/Deafblind persons and their families. There are various aspects of what a d/Deaf ministry looks like. The book, Deaf Ministry: Ministry Models for Expanding the Kingdom of God, goes into the nuances and models of d/Deaf ministry. A few examples of a d/Deaf ministry can include: An interpreted ministry, d/Deaf missions, and a hard of hearing ministry. Below are some best practices that hearing churches with a d/Deaf ministry may wish to consider for building or expanding their ministry.
According to the online Business Dictionary, best practice means “a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other mean, and that is used as a benchmark.” Often, best practices are context specific. The following are some general best practices to keep in mind, which are geared toward hearing churches with d/Deaf ministries.
Points to Observe
1. Hospitality (e.g. having a welcoming spirit.).
Hospitality is number one for a reason – it can make or break church’s d/Deaf ministry. Smiling, welcoming, inviting, including, accessibility, and other features are a part of hospitality. Read this article about some basic principles of hospitality.
2. Being accessible (architecturally, communication, and attitudinally).
Accessibility is the church’s commitment to d/Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and d/Deafblind people, along with people with disabilities. At the heart of this is the desire to have a church that is accessible and inclusive in the life of the church. Accessibility considerations from the Committee on Disability Ministries can be found in this checklist; the Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries also has this list that is specific to hard of hearing and late-deafened people.
3. Widen your scope
Consider expanding your ministry to additional ministry programs by doing mission work or reaching out to other populations such as hard of hearing and/or d/Deafblind people.
Audism is a negative bias toward d/Deaf people, which includes thinking they are not able to do certain things or cannot be in leadership because of their deafness. For example, what is your church’s motivation for your d/Deaf ministry? Another example is feeling sorry for them, even being paternalistic toward them. An article with more information can be found here.
Be missional. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry was mission work, which often moves beyond charity to creating relationships with those the church is in ministry with. Find a niche in your community. You might offer pastoral assistance to d/Deaf and hard of hearing people at the local shelter or establish a d/Deaf senior program.
6. Deaf Culture
Do your best to become familiar with d/Deaf culture and include it within your church while acknowledging that your ability to “know” the culture will be limited. Getting to know the culture will help with aspects of hospitality. Here is an article about the basic principles.
While some d/Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and d/Deafblind people visit or join a church of discipleship reasons, many look for a faith community for social reasons. Provide fellowship opportunities on a regular basis, as this is important for most culturally d/Deaf people. It can include Bible studies, regular lunch or dinners in the community, potluck meals, and even conversations over coffee and donuts before or after worship.
Support a variety of communication modalities so your church is more accessible. This includes sign language, lip-reading, having an assisted listening device or system, the use of captioning, and so on. For more information, see DHM’s electronic book Breaking the Sound Barrier.
9. Sign Language Classes
Offer periodic sign language classes for your church and your community. This helps Offer periodic sign language classes for your church and your community. This helps with building relationships and helps any d/Deaf and hard of hearing people to connect with others in the church. Some churches offer classes on a quarterly basis, while others will offer it once or twice a year. They can range from introductory to more comprehensive classes. When choosing a program or resource for the community emphasis should be placed on having d/Deaf instructors, d/Deaf cultural content, and a mixture of vocabulary and grammar. ASL Connect through Gallaudet University and the list of Online Sign Language Classes and Dictionaries from the United Methodist Committee of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries are supplemental tools, but not a substitute for training and leadership provided by d/Deaf-provided programs.
Periodically evaluate your d/Deaf ministry. What are we doing well? What should we do better? For example, do we have d/Deaf people in leadership positions? Why not? Do we offer sign language classes? Any signs of audism? Have we begun having a d/Deaf ministry committee? Deaf Ministry: Ministry Models for Expanding the Kingdom of God is helpful with this, as it includes some guidance for a d/Deaf ministry committee and some responsibilities of a d/Deaf ministry coordinator.
Empower, empower, empower. Don’t just include, but empower d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Sometimes this happens by partnering a d/Deaf and hearing persons in the beginning until the d/Deaf person feels comfortable or confident in whatever the role is. For example, running a food pantry or planning a potluck gathering.
To download a PDF of the original article, click here.
*In this after we use“d/Deaf” instead of “deaf” or “Deaf” to simultaneously acknowledging people who would audiologically identify as deaf and those who culturally identify as deaf (for example, some deaf children of hearing parents are faced with substantial audism and isolated from Deaf culture and, therefore, would be considered lowercase-d deaf, whereas there are hearing children of Deaf individuals who are actually culturally Deaf because of their parents’ milieu).
This article was adapted from the website of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard Of Hearing Ministries. For additional congregational resources including Best Practice, Brief Guides, and ASL Videos, click here.
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