Deaf Awareness club leads with sermon and song

Since the pandemic began, typical church scenes of the congregation singing in unison, sharing the Eucharist and giving each other the sign of peace have halted.

As public gathering places quickly became coronavirus hotspots, many churches dispersed as they deliberated ways to keep the congregation together while also staying safe.

Last Tuesday, the chapel and Deaf Awareness combined forces to try a new way of keeping the congregation engaged while also enlightening hearing church-goers about the Deaf community: teaching “Jesus Loves Me” in American Sign Language (ASL) and allowing ASL lab staffer Larry Puthoff to lead the sermon.

Puthoff’s sermon celebrated the source of his spirituality: his deafness.

“Though our ears may not be opened, God has opened our minds, our hearts and our eyes, in more ways than one,” Puthoff signed.

Although people can’t sing or speak in unison, they can come together and sign to engage themselves.

The Rev. Ann Rosendale, the campus pastor who helped organize this event, said allowing ASL interpreters to lead helped to “lift up Deaf awareness in
daily worship.”

In addition to the spiritual aspect of signing prayer, including interpreters in worship allows for a deeper understanding of Deaf culture, senior ASL interpreting major Mariah Mantz said.

Mantz, the former president of Deaf Awareness on campus, said many of the club’s beloved events like Burst of Sign, where students sign songs, jokes, skits, and more have been canceled because of COVID-19. She felt
nervous signing in front of the full chapel (75 people socially distancing) because she said the quick, 30-minute chapel service became “our time to shine as a club.”

Mantz translated the lyrics for “Jesus Loves Me” and taught them to the congregation. She said she “tried to make the song as simple as [she] could” so people could follow along more easily.

She also watched a video of a Deaf mother signing the song to her baby and used some of the mother’s tender motions to enhance the song. This is one
of the only times the club can safely engage the community during the pandemic, and Mantz said she’s proud of what it has accomplished so far this semester.

Puthoff also talked about Deaf culture in his sermon, appreciating the unique perspective his deafness allows him to experience the world through.

“We may not hear the rustling leaves in a tree — we can’t hear that,” Puthoff signed. “But we can see the beauty of the leaves in the wind, swaying back and forth.”

Ultimately, Rosendale said having the ASL interpreters sign “Jesus Loves Me” helped the congregation “learn to listen to God.” Augie Chapel and Deaf Awareness will continue to work together through the fall. Those interested can join next month’s event on Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. — either in person or on the chapel’s live stream — to get a unique glimpse into Deaf culture.

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