DEAFCHURCH Together: Planting a Liturgical Expression of the Christian Faith
How does it feel to be a deaf in a hearing world? Helen Keller, both blind and deaf, compares her experience of each, “Blindness separates me from things; but deafness separates me from people.” Deafness is not the actual problem; deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear. Communication barriers create the primary issues, with relational isolation being a common (and painful) experience for many Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals (Deaf/HH).
Deaf children, born to Deaf parents, develop socially and cognitively at similar rates as hearing children born to hearing parents; both enjoy the benefits of language-rich environments from birth. The capital “D” is intentional as an expression of the linguistic/cultural identity of this people group. The lower case is used to describe physical deafness. However, 8 of 10 children born deaf grow up in hearing families who never develop conversational fluency in sign language.
As you might imagine, even Christian families with deaf children face tremendous challenges with faith formation. In the United States, during the final decades of the twentieth century, the Christian faith was almost completely extinguished from the Deaf Community. There are several reasons for this spiritual crisis, but the good news is God is stirring up a spiritual revival in the hearts of many Deaf/HH youth and young adults.
One such example, DEAFCHURCH TOGETHER led by Fr. Bob Ayres, began in early 2020 with weekly online worship services— “Gospel, Message, and Creed”—completely in American Sign Language. The online presence is intended to prepare the soil for future church planting following the Greenhouse Movement model of the Anglican Church.
Bob and Kathy Ayres have been involved in ministry since the middle 1980s, both are fluent in ASL, and Bob has moderate/severe hearing loss. In 2000, God led the Ayres to launch Deaf Teen Quest (DTQ), a national relational ministry model of Youth For Christ USA. In 2004, Bob published Deaf Diaspora: The Third Wave of Deaf Ministry that is used as a textbook in several Deaf Ministry training programs.
In 2019, Bob co-authored DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation based on his doctoral work with a next generation think-tank of Deaf ministry practitioners. Kathy senses a call for helping the Anglican church become more accessible for families and individuals with special needs. Kathy is currently enrolled in Trinity School for Ministry and discerning a call to the vocational diaconate.
How can you help?
Pray. Pray for revival in the Deaf Community! Help us build awareness of DEAFCHURCH TOGETHER. You may want to post this information in your parish announcements or through your online presence. Deaf/HH people are scattered, so help pass the word among your family and friends. If you know of ACNA clergy or laity who might be interested in being part of this movement, please have them get in touch.
Contact Fr. Bob Ayres at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his website on YouTube, DEAFCHURCH Together or at Servants of Christ. Additionally, now is a great time to begin learning another language! Check out Gallaudet University’s free online ASL courses.