Church uses sign language to share faith

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Valerie McMillan’s finger touches the center of one open hand before alternating and doing the same on her dominant palm.

Even for those not fluent in American Sign Language, the reference to Jesus is clear, but the one-word sign is just one component of Christ Temple of Praise’s deaf ministry.

“The deaf ministry came about on a whim. My whole family is deaf and when my mom would come to church with me occasionally, I’d interpret for her but in the front,” she recalled.

The interest in using sign language in the service spread, soon incorporating a choir signing gospel songs on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

“In this particular setting, we have a choir that has learned the signs and we’re signing the songs as a group as opposed to one or two interpreters,” McMillan said, adding there are a few deaf members who joined the sign choir as well. “To have hearing people learn the language and sign alongside the deaf is a great way to show the partnership between everyone at the church.”

The deaf ministry expands to cover the entire service — from the announcements to the songs, sermon, offering and benediction — on the fifth Sunday of the month, including Sunday starting at 10 a.m. at 301 Jackson St. NE and all are welcome.

“Since we started, word has gotten out and I stopped advertising it because everyone already spreads the word for us,” she said. “We’ve got people coming on a regular basis from Kinston, Greenville, Farmville and even Raleigh and the rest of the Wake County area.”

McMillan, who provides video relay service for the deaf and hard of hearing as the director of Sorenson Communications in Greenville, said providing religious interpretation is fulfilling work.

“Even though the deaf ministry is officially only on the second, fourth and fifth Sundays, people can come anytime and as long as I know ahead of time, I’ll come prepared to interpret,” she said.

She encouraged those interested in attending on weeks outside of the deaf ministry Sundays to contact her in advance at 252-315-4888 or at valerieterp@gmail.com.

“I hope this article opens the hearts and minds of other churches to provide communication access to the deaf population,” she said. “They have souls and they want to know Jesus for themselves, too.”

The church is planning to relocate to U.S. 301 and McMillan said she hopes more students and staff from the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf will attend.

“I am considered the only hearing child of deaf adults, so both of my parents are deaf and three of my deaf brothers attended ENCSD,” she said. “American Sign Language was actually my first language and I learned to speak second. I’ve interpreted all my life and I like the opportunity to do it while sharing my faith.”