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Issue 3 number 9 July/Aug 2017

A glance through the window at chaplaincy with deaf people

The Revd Roger Williams O The Editors

Andrew Colborne Alexandra Green Louise Heffernan Sheila Hills

Silvia Joinson David Pope

Carol Worthington

Copy for next issue to Parish Office or via email by 5th of

preceding month E-mail:


Parish Office: St Helen’s Court, Abingdon. OX14 5BS

Tel: 01235 520144

The Window is available to download from the

Churches’ websites on the back page

ver 30 years ago I remember walking into a crowded room, no-one spoke, though there was the occasional funny noise and laughter, sometimes the stamping of feet or the flashing of lights to attract attention. When people arrived, they were greeted with

a hug, and there was much waving and slapping of hands. It was my first visit to a Deaf Club, and I had been asked to be their chaplain, which was in retrospect a turning-point in my life, for I had entered another world – the Deaf World.

I started on the long, hard but enjoyable road of learning to sign, in order to communicate with Deaf People. I soon discovered though that simple changes made a great deal of difference to Deaf People and my ministry. Firstly, the altar at the Deaf Centre, where the tradition was for the priest to celebrate with his back to the congregation. I soon moved the altar to face the con- gregation so people could lip-read me! My long and over grown beard had to go – so difficult for those struggling to lipread me!

As my signing skills improved I discovered what a beautiful language sign language is, and that signs can be more powerful than words. You may have heard your favourite bible passage read so many times, but to see it signed will put a new dimension on it - and you will see God in a way you have never experienced before. Through sign, facial expression, and placement, the characters in the passage come to life!

There is a passage in St Luke’s gospel (4.20): ‘And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.’ This reminds me so much of the eyes of Deaf People, as throughout a service the chaplain maintains eye- contact, even during the prayers. It is always such a privilege and a humbling experience to lead worship amongst Deaf People. It also reminds me that we should give God our full atten- tion as well.

Deaf People have taught me much, one important thing is to always look at people when you speak to them, so they can see your face and lip patterns. Added to that, it is much more re- spectful to look directly at someone when you speak to them, give them your full attention, rather than to be looking round at the next person you might possibly speak to.

The visual aspect in everyday life and worship is so important. Let us thank God for our eyes, and the wonders and beauty we see in our daily lives, may we also use our eyes to really see people as they are, to understand them and be sensitive to their needs.

The words of a hymn, written by the founder of a Deaf School in Strabane, Ireland, Mrs C.F. Alexander, come to me:

He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well

The Revd Roger Williams worships in the parish of Abingdon-on-Thames and was diocesan chaplain to the deaf community for over 25 years.

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