Wednesday, September 14, 2005

My class begins today!

In honor of the start of the beginning American Sign Language (ASL) class that I'm teaching, I thought I would share a bit of information from a Religious Signing book a friend of mine loaned me until mine comes in. This book was published in 1986, so much of it is dated, but it's interesting anyway.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS) was the third denomination to take an active interest in the spiritual needs of deaf people. Its work began quite by accident when deaf children came for religious instruction to what was intended to be a new orphanage in Detroit. Instead the institution opened in 1874 as a school for the deaf. It was by special request of one of the graduates of this school that church services for deaf people were begun in 1894 at what is now Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Chicago.

August P. Reinke was the first pastor to that congregation, and as his reputation regarding his ability to conduct church services in sign language spread, he was called upon to establish a regular circuit of preaching in midwestern cities. Soon thereafter LC-MS officially recognized the mission work among the deaf and established a Deaf Mission Commission [I'm sure has since been dissolved]. Within the next five years the number of pastors serving deaf people grew to seven, and by the time LC-MS celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of working with the deaf, there were twenty pastors conducting church services in approximately two hundred seventy-five cities across the United States.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has developed the most extensive work of the three Lutheran Synods [remember that at the time of this printing, the ELCA had not yet been established], with special training programs in both of its seminaries for students wishing to study for the deaf ministry. [I think Fort Wayne is the only one that offers training now.] At the present time there are approximately fifty full-time LC-MS pastors working with deaf people, a few of them whom are deaf themselves. The pastors are orgainized for the purpose of mutual support and continued education into the Ephphatha Conference, which was founded in 1903 and continues to meet annually. [Not sure if this is still true.] The International Lutheran Deaf Association was orgainized to assist the LC-MS deaf ministry throughout the world. LC-MS supports two schools for the deaf, the original one in Detroit and another in Long Island, New York, which was opened in 1951. [Not sure if this is still true, either.]

So much of the funding from LCMS headquarters has been reduced, and in many places even eliminated. What happened? Did the deaf population shrink? No, in fact, it has grown. Has the need for funding gone away because so many people have given to Deaf Ministry? No. If anything, there has been less money given to this ministry.

That's why I am so thrilled that 23 people signed up for my sign language class at church! Maybe I've opened people's eyes to the fact that the Deaf need to "hear" God's Word, too. When I presented my idea for beginning a Deaf Ministry program at my church, I told board members that "the deaf have been in silence for long enough." Maybe people were actually listening to me! I'm not exactly used to that yet.

Pray for me! My class begins at 7 p.m. (Central Time, of course) I'll let you know how it went.

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