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Hands-on worship adds color, variety to church J

oel Eichler never felt totally at home in his congregation grow- ing up because he believed other members “had no use for a deaf young man like me.” So he didn’t expect a different reception when he first attended Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, Portland, Ore. But the small congre- gation, and its pastor, Glenn Chase, surprised him—and they continue to do so.

Chase and others at Mount Car- mel have extended their outreach by learning sign language so Eichler can have a more full worship experience. “My pastor at Mount Carmel knew some sign language, so we could communicate a little,” Eichler wrote about Chase. “He invited me to some events and dine-outs. He made me feel like I am a part of the church’s family.”

Chase never has considered add- ing sign language as an official minis- try. “We didn’t start this with saying, ‘Let’s have sign language for deaf people,’ ” he said. “We started with saying, ‘This is Joel. How can we learn from him and have him learn from us.’ It’s an ongoing process. I’ve operated my whole ministry on that there are no coincidences. God’s way of remaining anonymous in our lives is what we call coincidences.” At first, Chase was the only per- son who could sign. Other members expressed an interest, so Eichler began teaching a class. “I was hesitant at first, but after a few weeks

100 plus birthdays

Joel Eichler (left) and Glenn Chase, pastor of Mount Carmel Lutheran, Portland, Ore., work together to incorporate sign language into church life.

thinking about it, I decided to do it,” he wrote. “It has gone well. There were nine students to begin with. After 10 weeks, there were only five left. Not as many as I had hoped, but then ours is a small church.” Chase said a few of Eichler’s friends, both deaf and hearing, attended ser- vices. One of them, Heather DeCoteau, started signing for services. Two mem- bers of her family were baptized during Easter worship. Incorporating sign language remains a work in progress, but Eichler is pleased with how everyone has responded. “Last December, I signed out the story of angels visiting the shepherds in the field,” he wrote. “It was a beautiful Christmas story, and my signing it out to the audience brought tears to many people’s eyes, even though they couldn’t understand sign language. They knew the story, so they could understand me for the most part. At least, I hope so.

“It adds color and variety to our church. I think it’s great for the church to have something out of the ordinary. It is God’s wish to have everyone included in his church. God did not limit the gospel to the Jews. He wanted it to be preached to the Gentiles as well, and to everyone else all around the world. That includes deaf people as well. Sign language is the language of the deaf community, so it will mean a lot to them if we could communicate with them in their language.” 

Jeff Favre Favre is a contributing editor of The Lutheran.

109: Florence Williams, St. John, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 108: Mildred Coene, Grace, Roch- ester, Pa. 105: Lillian Cordelia Ehlers, First, Morris, Minn.; Hazel Nilson, First, Stone Lake, Wis. 101: Gladys Hubert, New Life, Rothsay, Minn. 100: J.T. Fischer, Hope, Buckholts, Texas; Borghild Tuecke, St. John, Guttenberg, Iowa.

Share your stories of ELCA Lutherans and your 100+ members in “Faces.” Send to: or “Faces,” The Lutheran, 8765 W. Hig gins Rd., Chicago, IL 60631.

August 2013 43

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