Wellesley Hills Church Finds Energy in Sign Language

Wellesley Hills Church Finds Energy in Sign Language

In early September, we at Wellesley Hills Congregational Church, UCC in Wellesley, MA, were beginning our planning for Church school. We were making final decisions on how to open our faith formation program safely. There were many considerations on keeping our children safe; Plan A and then Plan B were in place after a long week.  
One night during that week, I had a detailed and vivid dream. I saw myself welcoming a young deaf child and their family to church.  
I crouched down, and said/signed, "Pleased to meet you; my name is Mrs. T."
I woke up that morning and had a Eureka moment; this is how we will sing in church school. Not just Christian camp songs with prescribed movements; no, we will learn American Sign Language (ASL). Why do generic movements when you can have actions with real meaning? To have the fun of movement with music, yet learn and share a new language? God thinks it's a good idea.
This vision and action were so clear that I told my minister about the dream and plan. I am happy I did because it has given me a form of proof today that gives me the confidence to share.  
At that time, the Wellesley Hills Children's Music Director was wondering what she could do with the children besides instruments. Due to COVID restrictions, our church was not singing indoors.
The Music Director was also learning ASL along with her children. Her oldest developed a passion and started learning to sign quicker than any of us. This young leader self-taught songs, then shared them for school projects and church school. That alone has been a gift to see, for a child to discover a passion for signing and being brave enough to share with her church community. She has led the children in "Silent Night" and "Jesus Loves Me" along with her mother.
From the first Sunday back at church, the youth and children started 'sign singing.'
We taught the church to sign words. We learned how to say Hi, Jesus, God, Love, Friends, and more. During the main sanctuary worship service, we started signing, Passing the Peace, as we had stopped shaking hands during COVID precautions. Watching the congregation sign this greeting was fun to witness.
Then, a young mother asked about local church children's programs on the local community Facebook group.  
I reached out to give her our information and explained who I was.
She wrote back: "My child has a hearing disability, and I will have to stay with her to interpret. Would that be ok? I am traveling far to find an ASL interpreted church, but it's only for adults in worship, no kids program."
Filled with emotion, I cried. But, at that moment, I knew I was supposed to be right here, right now. No matter what else was going on, God wanted this to happen. The Holy Spirit was evident.
God must love this little child so much that this knowledge-seeking was placed in my heart, my teacher, and her daughter's heart, and the church was open to receiving it.
I told this new family what was happening here already, that we have been open to ASL since September, and if they were willing to help, we would be happy to grow in understanding together.
So, with this family's help and guidance, using the Deaf Bible Society videos, You Tube videos, and a hearing-signing member of the congregation who is a trained interpreter, we are carving out a hearing-impaired accessibility-friendly church school. We have a long way to go and so much to learn. But I'm sure God will be guiding us along the way.
What is next for Wellesley?
During my research, I found out that 98% of the Deaf Community is unreached by the Gospel. [source: www.deafbiblesociety.com]
We are looking to bring in an ASL teacher on staff in Church School. We have already had two ASL teachers visit. This year, we have a family Christmas Eve worship service ASL interpreted for the first time.
Bringing friends together who don't share a common language can be a challenge. But the joys outweigh the challenges. Watching this one beautiful child and understanding her struggle to find a faith community has inspired our church school onward. They spurred us to make this small change of a warm environment for her and her family to be with people who love and want to know you more. We hope each child finds that Hills Church is a community for everyone.


Sally Tomasetti

Sally Tomasetti is the Coordinator of Children’s Ministry at the Wellesley Hills Congregational Church.

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