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August 25, 2003

More Metro churches minister to deaf , blind

From: Detroit News, MI - Aug 25, 2003

Congregations tend to spiritual needs of their worshippers

By Tenisha Mercer / The Detroit News

ST. CLAIR SHORES -- Religious music blasts from a stereo as the Rev. Ron Detloff steps to the pulpit. But Detloff doesn't need a microphone to deliver his sermon; most members at the Shores Deaf Church wouldn't hear it.

"God is trying to get us to love the enemy," Detloff says as he speaks and performs sign language during a recent Wednesday night Bible study. "This is not just for people in the hearing world, but for all the world."

It's part of a growing outreach at about two dozen Metro Detroit churches that are wooing people with physical challenges. They may be disabled, but that hasn't stopped churches from ministering to them.

Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield has interpreters and a choir for hearing-impaired members. Faith Assembly Deaf Church in Pontiac ministers to the deaf, and Our Lady of Loretto in Warren has a signed Mass for the deaf on Sundays.

"Their spiritual needs are the same as anyone else's," said the Rev. Michael Petersmarck of Faith Assembly Deaf Church. "The Lord said we are to go into all the world, and this is part of that commission."

Few resources

There are about 60 million disabled people in the United States, but there are few church resources for them. Local church officials estimate there are 20 churches in Metro Detroit that have interpreters and deaf ministries.

"Unfortunately, people with disabilities have been extremely marginalized in our society, but the scriptures have numerous examples of Christ calling on us to reach out to people who have been marginalized," said LisaRose Hall, executive director of the Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities in Indianapolis.

Churches that target the disabled have increased. The Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities plans to start a Grand Rapids chapter in September. The group provides training, resources and curriculum to churches with disabled members.

"We're starting to see churches reaching out," said Hall, who plans to start a chapter in Metro Detroit soon. "We are very encouraged. Everyone has something to give the (church) community."

At a recent Wednesday night Bible study at the Shores Deaf Church, members mouthed and signed lyrics to "This is the Day." There are about 50 members of the church, all affiliated with the St. Clair Shores Assembly of God.

Except for a projection screen, porcelain blackboard and occasional Bible skit and role playing, services at The Shores Deaf Church are similar to those at a traditional church. Some members have some hearing, so songs are played on a stereo and lyrics are displayed on an overhead projector. Copies of Detloff's sermon are distributed in sign writing -- a written form of sign language.

Annette Usher, 42, of Detroit has some hearing, but would rather worship at The Shores Deaf Church.

"Hearing and deaf culture is different ... and here I can enjoy myself and I don't have to (have) an interpreter," said Usher through an interpreter. "It's one-on-one."

At Word of Faith in Southfield, about 40 members worship at monthly Bible study and weekly Wednesday and Sunday services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing as part of the church's Hearing Eyes Ministry. The church also is considering plans to add Braille Bibles and teaching materials for the blind, said Minister Andrea Simpson, director of public relations.

"It's not about ostracizing them or pushing them out of the way," Simpson said. "We don't want them to feel that they are not a part of our family because of their challenge. Although they are hearing-impaired, it doesn't mean they don't face the same problems we face, but maybe even more because they are challenged in that area."

The disabled also are ministering. The Rev. Douglas Davis, 47, is blind, but he doesn't let it hinder him from his duties at the New Vision Foursquare Church in Howell. The church has 30 members, all of whom have sight.

"It doesn't seem to be much of an issue anymore," said Davis, who prepares sermons using a Braille Bible and a computer that uses a speech recognition program to type out words that are converted into Braille. "I counsel people. I pray for people. I don't have the freedom to jump in the car and go to someone's house, but I use the phone instead. Most people just accept that I'm blind and go with the flow."

Larry Patton uses his disability to inspire others. Patton, 47, has cerebral palsy and gives motivational speeches to youth groups and churches several times a month. He founded Hurdling Handicaps Speaking Ministries in 1985 and is director of men's ministries at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy.

"I get weird looks when I go to the pulpit sometimes, but God sees my voice and I know that God is saying something through me and people can see that," said Patton, who has spoken to up to 2,000 people at a time. "We all have some weakness that God wants to use. If people can see how God is using me, then maybe they will think, if he can do this, I can do this too."

The Rev. Harry Krupsky, minister of family life at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, agreed.

"Just seeing Larry and the way he keeps pushing himself is an inspiration," Krupsky said. "He challenges you to dream your dream. He's always working towards a higher goal."

Copyright © 2003 The Detroit News.