28 April 2021

Being a Deaf local preacher

Deaf Awareness Week;  3rd-9th May 2021

Anna Herriman, a local preacher with Oxford Methodist Circuit who has been profoundly deaf from birth, shares her experiences.
You can also watch a BSL prayer for Deaf Awareness Week, shared by Anna, here.

I am profoundly deaf from birth and I am a British Sign Language (BSL) user. I am also a local preacher in training for the Methodist Church. I have recently completed the training course Worship: Leading and Preaching and submitted my final Portfolio in March this year. We have had “Explore” sessions for the course and I used BSL interpreters to access these.

OK, what is it like to be a profoundly deaf local preacher? God calls anyone to preach. I suppose the main difference with me is the linguistic and the cultural aspects of it and perhaps experience.

I preach in two places. I preach for the Methodist Church in my local circuit. I am also on a rota where I preach for a UK national online church on Facebook called “BSL Church Worship” for the Deaf Community, which is wholly in British Sign Language. I preach for them roughly once every 8 – 10 weeks and I have to create videos of my pre-recorded service which get posted on the Facebook page when it is my turn. I, therefore, preach in two different languages! I preach in spoken English for my local Methodist Circuit and I preach in BSL for BSL Church Worship.

When I lead worship within the Methodist Circuit, sometimes, I incorporate sign language into the service. I may also include aspects of Deaf Culture into my sermons! Since the start of the lockdowns in March 2020, when we developed a circuit service online, I have been part of my circuit and church virtual choirs. As part of this I began to translate hymns and worship songs into BSL and inserted them into the final worship video. Members of my circuit and church have actually found this quite powerful as it gave a deeper, richer meaning to the hymns and songs. The visual perspective helps to convey the messages in the words.

Within worship in person, I have introduced and encouraged BSL in responsive prayers of confession by putting up the words on the screen and teaching the congregation the signs they need before the prayer. I put all my prayers up on screen anyway, in case any member of the congregation has any difficulty understanding my voice. I also use images and display complex words on the screen, during my sermons to help reinforce, what I am saying. This has proved very useful for any members of the congregation that suffer from hearing loss and sometimes miss spoken words. I also provide copies of my sermon script to the stewards, before the service, for anyone who needs them. I have also referred to Deaf Culture within my sermons too!

I usually arrange to have two BSL interpreters for services that I preach face to face. That is in case one of them is unable to come at the last minute i.e. illness, car break down or any other emergency, so that I am not stranded at the last minute as it is difficult to find a replacement interpreter at short notice. I provide my service materials to my interpreters, for preparation, beforehand. When I lead worship, my interpreters act as my ears to inform me of anything that might be happening within the congregation, what is said by a member of the congregation, guide me along with timings of hymns and shared spoken prayers like the Lord’s Prayer as well as translating for anyone speaking in my service.

Within online worship for my Methodist Circuit, they have full transcript anyway. However, on my videos, I do add captions in some places to give greater clarity. I also use images and put the text of quotes on there too. I don’t tend to use my BSL interpreters for these.

 My use of BSL has encouraged other local preachers and worship leaders to refer to BSL and invite me to show examples as part of their services too.

 Within my services for BSL Church Worship, I use other Deaf Christians who use BSL to take part in my services i.e. worship songs, Bible reading or prayers. I have even led a BSL dramatised Bible Reading for my recent Easter Sunday Service for BSL Church Worship group.

 I regularly attend Local Preacher Meetings. For these, I now book two BSL interpreters as the meeting tends to be quite lengthy. When meetings are over an hour in length, it is advisable to book two interpreters in order to maintain the quality of BSL translation.

 God’s love is for all, I look forward to continuing serve God in my calling to speak of His love for all in the years to come.

Anna Herriman

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