Topeka church offers worship for the deaf

? When discussing statistics that indicate 95 percent of deaf people in the United States are unchurched, Sara Hale doesn’t bat an eye.

In fact, it makes perfect sense to her. “Deaf children would go to church with their hearing parents but wouldn’t understand what was going on,” said Hale, 32, of Topeka, who is deaf. “By the time they left their parents’ home, they didn’t want to go to church anymore. It was boring.”

Hale is helping to improve the worship experience for deaf people as a sign-language interpreter during 9:30 a.m. Sunday services at Faith Lutheran Church, 1716 S.W. Gage. Much of her interpretation is to music presented during the services.

Other interpreters, stationed near the front, provide sign language for sermons and prayers.

Hale said both of her parents were deaf and took her to church as she was growing up in Minnesota. Her parents helped her get a feel for what was going on during worship services and taught her about the Christian faith. As a result, she said, it felt natural for her to be in church.

But many deaf children — particularly those with hearing parents who aren’t fluent in sign language — may not feel as comfortable going to church.

Deb Hale said she began to learn sign language more than two decades ago to communicate better with her son, David, 25, when he was a small child. David, who is deaf, is married to Sara Hale.

As her son grew older, Deb Hale began to offer sign language for worship services at Faith Lutheran Church — not just for her son, but for others who might be interested.

While other local congregations have offered sign-language interpretation at services, Faith Lutheran Church has become known over the years as a place where deaf people are welcome, and where they can become integrated into worship services.

She said many people who learn sign language have relatives who are deaf.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, of which Faith Lutheran Church is a member, has a long history of ministry to the deaf. A Chicago church became the first in the denomination to lead a worship service for the deaf in sign language on March 4, 1894.