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December 24, 2005

Two Masses, one community: Deaf and hearing service draws parishioners

From: The Patriot Ledger - Quincy,MA,USA - Dec 24, 2005

The Patriot Ledger

ROCKLAND - Mass at Trinity Episcopal Church in Rockland is celebrated in two languages.

While the Rev. Gerald Lawrence prays and speaks to the congregation, an interpreter signs for deaf members, sitting to the right side of the altar.

Though the deaf and hearing churchgoers occupy different sections of the nave during Mass, parishioners say they are all part of the same worshipping community.

‘‘The most important things about our church are the friendships, the coming together to worship,’’ said deaf parishioner Robin Fisher, of Pembroke, through an interpreter.

‘‘We’re all talking with God,’’ she said.

Church members come from Braintree, Quincy, Pembroke and other South Shore communities to participate in the deaf Mass.

Interpreter and parishioner Karen Bonn, of Whitman, said that the church is fully integrated.

‘‘This is a deaf and hearing church,’’ Bonn said. ‘‘We’re unique that way.’’

‘‘We worship together, work together, raise money together,’’ she added.

Deaf parishioners are ushers, greeters, even lectors at the church.

When a deaf lector signs the readings from the pulpit during Mass, an interpreter speaks them.

When the Rev. Lawrence says the ‘‘Lord’s Prayer’’ during Mass, hearing parishioners sign as much as they know along with deaf members.

Hearing parishioners take sign language classes to better communicate with their deaf peers. Sign language is also taught in the children’s Sunday school classes.

The deaf ministry started at Trinity Episcopal Church in 1994, under the leadership of the Rev. Stephen Fregeau.

Parishioner Dawn Forrester proposed the idea after seeing how frustrated her deaf nephew, Stephen Hilsdon, was when he couldn’t understand the services.

The diocese gave the church a grant to help start the program and many hearing parishioners enrolled in the church’s sign language classes.

Although the church was committed to only one year of signed service, both hearing and deaf parishioners lobbied to keep the ministry going and it has grown and expanded over the past 12 years.

Now, there are about 12 deaf parishioners who attend Mass regularly.

‘‘I grew up in the Catholic church - I went but there was no interpreter,’’ said deaf parishioner Robert Fisher, of Pembroke. ‘‘But now I feel better, I understand more of what’s going on.’’

Emeka Ofuokwu of Braintree, who has been coming to Trinity Episcopal since the deaf ministry started, said he has watched the program flourish.

‘‘We weren’t sure how it would go when it started ... but we just keep growing,’’ Ofuokwu said through an interpreter.

Though the Rev. Lawrence said he had seen interpreted masses at other churches before coming to Trinity Episcopal in 1999, the burgeoning integration at the church took him by surprise.

‘‘The deaf community was participating fully in the services - they were all signing along with the interpreter,’’ the Rev. Lawrence said.

‘‘I’m not sure any of us knew this would deepen and develop in the way it has,’’ he said.

The Rev. Lawrence and other parishioners would like to see even more participants in the deaf ministry.

‘‘It doesn’t matter who you are,’’ Ofuokwu said, smiling. ‘‘We’ll take more deaf people, more hearing people. We just like our church to grow.’’

Florence Rossetti of Norwell, who is deaf, is a new parishioner at Trinity Episcopal.

‘‘I found out about this church and started coming,’’ she said through an interpreter.

‘‘I just love it,’’ she said.

Courtney Hollands may be reached at

Copyright 2005 The Patriot Ledger