I have attended church and church related activities since I was an infant. My parents’ involvement with the small United Methodist Church in my home community was of great importance in their lives. Since Mom was the organist and Dad was the choir director, I would sit with my grandmother or a friend of the family during morning worship services. When I was old enough to attend class, I adored my first Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Lena Regis. I remember her as being a caring, gentle, and understanding person and this feeling of friendship most likely was one reason I continued to feel welcomed.
I participated in almost all the activities offered for children and youth: Sunday school classes, youth group, choir, vacation Bible school, confirmation class, summer church camp, and Sunday morning worship. I would focus intently on the sermons, prayers, songs, and scriptures but understood probably no more than 20% of what was being said. Just making out the words by speechreading alone was close to impossible in the setting of the sanctuary. Therefore, I rarely understood the concept of the scriptures and sermons. It always confused me as to why I had to bow my head and close my eyes during prayer. How was I supposed to know what was being said if I couldn’t see the speaker’s mouth? Not until I was in college was I brave enough to hold my head up and keep my eyes on the person who gave the prayer and try to comprehend each word.
Music was one area of worship that I could actually follow. This probably confuses people since my hearing loss was severe as a child and throughout my teen years. However, my parents had taught me to read music and I could follow the rhythm and words in the hymnal. I memorized many, many songs and eventually understood the meaning over the years as my vocabulary and language matured. Most of these hymns are still stored in my memory today and I tend to sing vocally in church instead of signing with the interpreter.
I don’t talk much about my faith since I feel it is personal but I do hope my actions speak for me. Sometimes I even wonder what I actually do believe. There are times I can’t comprehend or understand the abstractness of the scriptures or even prayer for
that matter. There are times I’ve felt let down dealing with the daily challenges of caring for my family and I question my faith, but I have continued to attend services with the support of ASL interpreters. I feel I’m catching up and comprehending more with the presence of interpreters at my church. Many years of confusion and somewhat construed stories and sermons are being replaced with more clear and accurate messages.
For the most part, I have had a positive relationship with my pastors. Most of them have been supportive of my life endeavors. I feel I’ve managed as best as possible through speechreading, in spite of how stressful it might have been. When I communicated with my former pastors, they gave me their full attention and kept eye contact, which is of utmost importance to me. However, we have a new senior pastor and just as she delights in the many wonderful opportunities that our church in Los Altos has to offer, I am taking satisfaction in the opportunity of having a pastor who knows ASL. For the first time in sixty-four years, I felt an inner peace Sunday as the pastor of my home church, Rev. Mariellen Yoshino, used ASL when she served me communion. I was filled with a sudden, unexpected warmth and feeling of gratification.
Will having a pastor who knows ASL, along with the interpreters from whom I am able to comprehend what is being spoken, help me to strengthen my faith? I hope so. Will I speak more freely about my faith? Probably not. Nevertheless, I pray that my actions will continue to speak for me in a positive way.