Sunday, January 23, 2022

Breaking barriers: This ministry is building faith with the deaf community

Anthony Kearney started the deaf ministry at Bethel Baptist Church and has been providing services for the deaf community for decades. (WYDaily/Bethel Baptist Deaf Ministry Facebook)
Anthony Kearney started the deaf ministry at Bethel Baptist Church and has been providing services for the deaf community for decades. (WYDaily/Bethel Baptist Deaf Ministry Facebook)

Now that many congregations have gone online for worship services, Bethel Baptist Church is finding even more interaction through its deaf ministry.

“Because of the [coronavirus], it’s really had a big impact on our online services,” said Anthony Kearney, leader of the deaf ministry. “So we wanted to make sure we connected to our deaf community with anything related to our mission and that’s given us a change to become part of a shared community.”

Bethel Baptist Church is in Hampton.

On the Bethel Baptist Deaf Ministry Facebook page, members of deaf ministry congregations from across the country have been interacting and sharing messages of faith. While the ministry always had an online presence, it has expanded in recent weeks to feature information and messages from other deaf ministries to make up for the lack of in-person communication.

But connecting with the deaf community is nothing new for Bethel Baptist. The church has offered a deaf ministry for more than two decades when Kearney started the program after being approached by church leaders saying there was a need.

Kearney said he was ready to fill that need as a graduate of Welch College in Nashville where he participated in deaf ministry.

“I met a deaf couple in church about 35 years ago and I just fell in love with the language and I fell in love with deaf people,” he said. “It’s just that they’re uniquely different, not special or uneducated, but they talk in a different structure and God gifted me with the ability to understand.”

Providing the necessary form of communication is important to Kearney because American Sign Language does create a different form of interpretation, which is why the ministry doesn’t simply use captioning. Kearney said ASL is a visual language that provides a vision to those able to understand.

When the program first started, Kearney said he was doing everything from interpreting services to community outreach. He has developed a training program where people can learn to communicate at different levels in the ministry.

Kearney added that at first it was difficult to get enough people trained because Hampton is a military community. Those trained would eventually move away, but would spread the knowledge to communities across the country.

There are about 10 people currently trained to work in the deaf ministry, including three high level interpreters and seven who are able to interpret songs or Sunday school classes. 

“My goal anytime I talk about deaf individuals is to share my desire that they are able to participate in every area of the ministry with communication they understand,” he said.

Those interpreters are also active in the deaf community outside of the church. They learn to help deaf individuals with filling out service forms, doctors appointments and sometimes even with buying a car.

“You have to understand that deaf ministry is more than just signing and communication,” he said. “It’s about wanting to be a part of their life and encompass everything they are. It’s about building that trust and showing you genuinely care for them. You have to be there for them not just on Sunday morning, but in every part of their life.”

While there are only approximately nine members of the congregation who are deaf, Kearney said the online platform has allowed the ministry to reach out to even more members of the deaf community in the area. He hopes more people will come to Bethel Baptist knowing there are individuals ready to meet their needs when the church is able to reopen for live services.

“My desire is the community understand that deaf people have the same needs and want to understand,” he said. “And every year we get stronger and stronger.”

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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