The vision God has given me for setting up a Deaf Church has actually happened…I see it unfolding before my eyes!
Open Hands Signing Church aims to encourage Deaf people to worship God using the beautiful language of the British Deaf Community – British Sign Language, and other visual means. Hearing people are welcomed too, and a voice-over is always provided so that they have access to everything.
At Open Hands Signing Church we use signed Bible readings, songs, drama and prayers and visual Powerpoints to share and develop in our faith.
In Acts 2: 1 – 13, we read about each person seeing tongues of fire, being filled with the Holy Spirit and then using other tongues. The reading focuses on people hearing, listening and speaking in their own tongues. We could argue that Deaf people would have joined in too, but using sign language…maybe many different sign languages. God allows access for everybody, not just hearing people using speech. That gives me hope. We do not have to be restricted to worshipping through sounds, we can worship using our own visual spatial language, one that incorporates our hands alongside facial expression and body language.
The monthly Open Hands Signing Church service fell on Easter Sunday this year. This provided the opportunity for the whole Easter story to be presented in drama sketches – from Palm Sunday to ‘He is Risen!’. This had a huge impact on everyone there (Deaf and hearing alike). It was so different from the familiar experience of Easter Sunday in many churches. In addition, one Deaf person was baptised during this service. She had become a Christian after having experienced God’s love whilst practising a story about love as part of our drama group a couple of months earlier. She is first Deaf person to be baptised at Open Hands Signing Church! This was then an opportunity or other deaf people to understand the real meaning of baptism as a commitment to God as ‘active observers’.
Maybe sometimes, pictures and demonstrations give a depth of meaning and experience that words may not…for everyone? Certainly for Deaf people who use British Sign Language or other visual means to access and share information. It wouldn’t have been any good sending Deaf people home with a Bible story that they couldn’t access (English being a struggle for many Deaf people)!
Hearing people come to Open Hands too. At the end, a group of them said ‘The Easter Sunday service was truly lovely…very welcoming to all and very inclusive. There was a song ‘As we gather Father seal us with the love that knows no fear’. It is perfect for Open Hands Signing Church, particularly the lines:
‘No more outcasts, no more strangers, all dividing walls are down.
Here is love that redefines us, dignifies the least and lowest one.’
That is exactly how Easter Sunday felt to us.’
Open Hands Signing Church is an ongoing journey. We are learning together from each other and being challenged to explore new ways to experience God in our lives. As we move forward together, our faith is growing. Your prayers are appreciated as we seek to strengthen our faith.
Susan (Revd Susan Myatt)