Thank you to Sylvia Rhodes for taking pictures! Pictures of church rarely make it to the blog. It's so nice to have some. Thank you.
Our worship begins with me making announcements about events during the week, birthdays, welcoming visitors and then someone praying for our contrite hearts and open minds to God's presence.
Next we sing. Any person who wants to sing selects a song from our two binders. We usually have about 6 people who sign songs. It's not always the same people. The songs are completely without music. They are signed with a deaf rhythm. Some songs have a lot of rhythm and others are choruses from familiar Christian praise songs. Some are translations of Psalms and still other songs we have made up to fit a theme at some point. Once in a while one of the members will get up front and sign a song from their heart that they made up while sitting on the bench. I encourage that and love to see this type of Spirit-led singing.
After singing we give an opportunity for people to share something they noticed God do during the week...how God gave protection, guidance, maybe a blessing. Usually about four people will share. I really want people to keep their eyes open to how God is speaking into their lives. God is a very real daily presence. We need to share these moments of incarnation with each other to strengthen our ability to perceive God's guidance and messages to us, so that we can be faithful followers.
The sharing is followed by our ASL translation of the "Thank You Song" by Hillsong. Kristel is usually the one who signs this and we copy with signs or just watch and meditate on the words.
At this point I give everyone a break. It's hard for deaf people to sit and watch for long periods of time. My eyes actually water. Hearing people can look down and just listen, but deaf people need to keep their eyes focused on the speaker to be able to follow and understand. I found I get much better attention for the sermon if I give them a break midway through the hour and a half service. So after the sharing, everyone can get up and get a drink or visit with each other or go to the bathroom. The break is usually about 5 to 10 minutes.
After the break I preach. I always use power point pictures to make the concept more visual. It's difficult for me to try to make a point standing in one place so I oven move around to sort of "act out" or demonstrate what I am trying to say. To keep people connected who have varying levels of understanding of ASL, it's necessary to ask questions or break into small groups to share ideas and then share with the group. I guess this more resembles teaching in a classroom than preaching.
After the sermon we need to do something to make the concept practical and applicable to our daily lives so we often break into groups and do skits to show an example of an application. Our multi-age congregation is extremely good at accommodating everyone into their groups' skit.
Finally we gather in a circle for prayer. Each person is given an opportunity to say a prayer or pass. I try to encourage everyone to say something...a thank you prayer if they do not have a petition.
At the close we greet each other with "God Bless you." It's a way of "passing the peace" to everyone in our fellowship, a chance to offer forgiveness or affirm the bond of friendship in Christ.
We close with a fellowship time that lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, drinking a cool juice and some bagged chips before everyone crawls back into the van and we drive home.
It's interesting that Jesus Deaf Church was not always this way, but our order of worship evolved as we grew to understand better why we were coming together to worship and how our worship could reflect our Deaf culture.