The United Church of Christ in Devon has been a welcoming congregation for more than 100 years. The Milford, Conn., congregation took the latest step at the beginning of this year to become even more open and accessible to those with hearing disabilities. On Jan. 3, the church offered its first monthly service with sign language interpretation.
Recently, a deaf woman, Mary, who attended UCC in Devon as a child, returned to worship with the congregation, but her means of communication is through American Sign Language (ASL). The Rev. Karl Duetzmann, who pastors the church, immediately got busy figuring out how to help Mary get the most out of UCC in Devon’s Sunday services.
"She dropped by at the church and asked me to give her a home visit, and to bless her house," Duetzmann said. "I met with her, and her social worker, and tried to find what would be best way to support her coming to church. We are not skilled in signing, but the church is a uniquely welcoming congregation, and they have a can-do spirit when something that needs to be addressed — be it outreach or inclusion."
So Duetzmann began researching the cost of a sign language interpreter and for funds to cover those costs. It led him to Connecticut Concerned Citizens for People With Disabilities, which provided UCC in Devon with a grant for the cost of an ASL interpreter once a month for for the next 6-to-8 months. Connecticut Concerned Citizens is a non-profit, philanthropic organization in Milford dedicated to helping anyone in need with a disability. During the Dec. 13 worship service, representatives from the group presented a check to church council president Jean Klink and the Rev. Karl Duetzmann. (Pictured at top)
"Interpreters can be expensive, and we secured the funds and we made a concerted effort to find an interpreter, and through the social worker we found someone who was very skilled and knew Mary since she was 14 years old," Duetzmann said.
When the time came for the first service with signed interpretation, Duetzmann said "everything went better than I could have hoped. The congregation was fascinated to see the entire service signed, the interpreter did everything, and it was beautiful."
Duetzmann said that ASL interpreted faith-based services or churches are not common in Southwestern Connecticut. "The deaf and hearing impaired community here is being greatly underserved. I have not found any churches in the area [that offer interpretation], except for a Baptist church in Bridgeport," he said.
UCC in Devon hopes to secure more funding to extend the interpretation service for the deaf community. "That’s what I am in the process of doing right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this grows," Duetzmann said.