Sunday, October 18, 2009

Deaf ministry brings songs, sermons to life for hearing impaired at Calvary Baptist Church

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Morning’s light filtered through the multicolored stained glass windows of Calvary Baptist Church’s sanctuary Sunday, casting a soft glow on the church’s congregation.

Standing in front of the church to the left of the pulpit, Vickie Brown weaved her hands intricately in front of her, painting the words of a song in the air so those who couldn’t hear the choir’s words could see them.

“Shine your light and let the world see,” Brown signed, interpreting for the choir. “We’re singing for the glory of a risen king.”

Calvary Baptist Church’s deaf ministry has been a part of the church’s worship experience since the early 1960s when it was started by Naomi Scott, a secretary at the church who did outreach work with Tuscaloosa’s deaf populace.

Songs, sermons and prayers are translated into American Sign Language at the church’s 11 a.m. service for the five members of the church who are deaf.

“It’s important to have an interpreter at church so I can learn about Jesus and so people who cannot hear can be saved,” signed Robert Scott, who was born deaf and has been a member of Calvary since 1973.

“Sometimes (deaf) people watch TV (church services), but it’s not the same experience as being in church,” he signed.

Brown has been the coordinator for Calvary’s deaf ministry since January 2007.

She started learning American Sign Language in classes taught at Calvary

in 1976 when she moved to Tuscaloosa to attend graduate school at the University of Alabama. She continued to learn sign language in community courses and wherever an opportunity became available.

“I worked at this camp after I graduated from Troy University in 1974, and there were two campers who were deaf,” Brown said. “It frustrated me that I couldn’t communicate with them, so when I got the opportunity, I learned sign language.”

Brown left Calvary when she moved from Tuscaloosa in 1980, but returned 27 years later to head the church’s deaf ministry after starting two deaf ministries at other churches in the state.

“I’ve been brought full circle,” Brown said. “I started learning sign here, and now I’m back. It’s a blessing.”

Rev. Tim Lovett, Calvary’s pastor, said the deaf ministry is not just an integral part of Calvary’s worship experience for the deaf, but for those who can hear as well.

“What I love about the deaf ministry is it gives visual effects to our words,” Lovett said. “It gives meaning to words that we might otherwise not get.”