Signs of faith

Deaf church creates community for hearing-impaired

  • McClatchy-Tribune News Service

    September 24, 2011 

  • McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • The sermon was so animated, it was as if it were being acted out in mime. Instead, it was a deaf preacher signing a sermon to a deaf congregation.

    One recent Sunday, about 65 members of Deaf Liberty Baptist Church in Overland Park, Kan., watched as Clark Corogenes preached in the place of pastor David Hanson, who was recuperating from surgery.

    On the side up front, Teresa White interpreted the sermon for the hearing members, who number about 10.

    While listening to her, it was hard to not watch Corogenes, who was signing and acting out the story of Jacob and Esau. The theme was broken fellowship and reconciliation.

    "When there are stories, I act them out so the people can visualize them and apply them to their lives," Corogenes said through an interpreter. "Deaf people are visual learners."

    On a large screen was the outline of his sermon in words and visuals, making it easier for everyone to follow along.

    At the beginning of the service, Jerry Sanders and his wife, Leslie Ann Sanders, led the congregation in singing, deaf style. Music was started, and the two signed the song in perfect rhythm as members joined in.

    Throughout the sanctuary, arms swayed and fingers moved as people smiled, familiar with the old tune "I Love to Tell the Story." At the end of the service, the closing song was "Because He Lives."

    "I can read the words, and I know the songs, but it's not easy," Jerry Sanders said.

    Leslie Ann Sanders joined the singing team last year. Growing up, she attended hearing churches with her hearing parents. She was 18 before she learned sign language.

    Deaf Liberty Baptist Church is the oldest church for the deaf in the Kansas City, Mo., area. It started in 1980, when 40 deaf people out of Northeast Baptist Church and Temple Deaf College in Kansas City formed a church and asked Hanson, who is also deaf, to be their pastor.

    The two local Catholic dioceses and many Protestant churches throughout the area provide interpreters who sign for deaf congregants. "They are doing the best they can, but there's always room for more," said Joan Macy, coordinator for outreach for the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe, Kan.

    Among the area ministries, interpreters are provided for Masses, church events such as retreats and for classes, said Pat Richey, deaf ministry consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Also, a special service in sign language is conducted once a month.

    Teri Sturgeon of Unity Church of Overland Park has been interpreting since 1999. Her adopted son is deaf. Each Sunday, she signs for two to 12 people.

    "Some hearing people feel they can't communicate with the deaf, so they avoid them," she said. "For the deaf, it's the most lonely situation to be in, the most alienating disability."

    The Rev. Derek Varney of First Baptist Church of Olathe said the church started having an interpreter sign in the 1960s because a member had a deaf child.

    He concedes it is a challenge for the hearing to communicate with the deaf, "but (the deaf) are very forgiving of the hearing people."

    Many people at Deaf Liberty said they enjoy being part of a small deaf community and deaf culture.

    Jerry Sanders said the deaf members have an equal opportunity to preach, teach and serve God.

    "We're all the same here."

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