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Calvary Baptist's Deaf Church spreads the gospel through signing
Scott Bass has been traveling by bus from Everett to Renton every Sunday morning for the last five years to attend service at Calvary Baptist Church in the Highlands.
With transfers and waits, it’s a daunting trip for anyone, but Bass is also blind and deaf. He comes all the way from Everett to attend Calvary Baptist’s Deaf Church. He’s been a member for 28 years and traveled to the Renton Highlands for church when he lived in Seattle, too. “I feel God has led me to be here,” said Bass, as interpreted by Pastor Fred DeBerry. “I never miss it at all.”
Bass was born deaf and had “traveling vision” up until the age of 16.
Coming to Calvary Baptist gives him a big smile, he says.
He is one of about 35 current members who find community in this church. The deaf church is a ministry of the larger hearing Calvary Baptist Church, of which Grant Bowles is the senior pastor.
The deaf church is a mix of people, slightly older, who come from Renton and beyond for fellowship and worship. Some are deaf, some are hearing people but married to people who are deaf. Some have children who are deaf; others have parents who are deaf. Most of them know sign language or are learning to sign.
Caroline Huberty has attended the church with her deaf, adopted son, CJ, for the past two years.
“It means a lot to me knowing I have a group of people who are going to help me teach him about God through his own language anme teach him about God through his own language and through the experiences of a person who’s deaf,” said Huberty.
The church members have become her son’s friends and they teach him important lessons, she says.
“He gets to see other grown-ups, deaf adults, what they become and that they can be social workers, laborers, builders of cars,” said Huberty. “They can be anything they want to be.”
That’s important for him to understand the world is open to him in the future, she said.
At Calvary Baptist’s Deaf Church, the deaf lead prayers and the music.
The music selections are more like dramatic readings with the interpreters using their hands to sign and their whole bodies to articulate the meaning of the music. The audience follows along mimicking the signs.
“Remember music is poetry, just set to song,” said DeBerry. “So, they’re going to sign it so it’s very beautiful in sign language, but it may not have anything to do with beats.”
DeBerry has been the pastor of the deaf church for 34 years. As he signs his sermons, he speaks aloud for the hearing audience. There is always someone voicing the prayers, music, announcements or messages for the hearing members.
Sometimes DeBerry uses images and words projected on a screen to convey his point.
For the deaf and blind, currently there are two such members, translators sit across from them holding their hands so they can feel the signs. Total there are four legally blind and deaf members.
Typically there are three Bibles that are used with the deaf, says DeBerry. They are easier to read and at a lower reading language, but not necessarily a lower concept level.
“A typical deaf person doesn’t read at the same reading level as us,” DeBerry said. “They don’t do phonics; they didn’t grow up sounding out words.”
As a hearing person, DeBerry still looks for clues the congregation understands his message much like any other pastor. He looks for their facial acknowledgment and nodding heads as he signs his sermons. He also asks questions of the group and gets feedback after church service.
“There’s no one way to do it if you really want to reach deaf people for Christ,” he said. “There’s not one way for everybody.”
DeBerry thinks there are probably only six deaf churches in the state. What’s more common is deaf ministries, which are part of a larger hearing church.
Calvary Baptist’s Deaf Church films its services for the First Baptist Church of the Deaf in Vancouver. DeBerry used to go there a couple times a month to preach.
DeBerry calls his experience with the church “incredible,” and he is amazed by the dedication of members like Bass and those that take turns interpreting.
“This is his church and really this is his family,” DeBerry said of Bass.
CALVARY BAPTIST’S DEAF CHURCH
ADDRESS: 1032 Edmonds Ave. N.E., Renton
SERVICE: Deaf Bible study, 9:30 a.m., Sundays; deaf worship, 11 a.m., Sundays
PASTOR: Fred DeBerry
PHONE: Video phone, 425-336-2531; Voice/TTY, 425-255-3273