Deaf Ministry Reaches Local and International Individuals with the Aim of Empowering Communities

Amy Waltz-Reasonover leads opening prayer for St. Gallaudet Episcopal Deaf Prayer Group online.

A one-of-a-kind missional community is gaining momentum in the Diocese of Texas.

For over a year, ­­St. Gallaudet Episcopal Deaf Prayer Group—the first Episcopal missional community for the Deaf, has been ministering to the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community of Houston and their hearing families.

The group was founded in August 2020, by Amy Waltz-Reasonover with support from Trinity, Baytown, and on August 28, 2021, St. Gallaudet Episcopal Deaf Prayer Group, celebrated its one-year anniversary of ministry with a feast day celebration for its patron saint, Thomas Gallaudet, and his comrade in ministry, Henry Winter Syle—the first Episcopal missioners of the Deaf.

The group has paired with voice interpreters, hearing clergy, and laypeople to offer prayers, compline, and hymns, and worship in American Sign Language (ASL) with English voicing. The group currently has 97 members—both hearing and deaf—15-20 of whom are active in regular group activities.

The mission of SGEPG is to offer worship to Deaf Episcopalians as well as those in the Deaf community in Houston. Although the ongoing COVID pandemic has forced the group to exist in ministry entirely online, this has facilitated an unforeseen growth of national and international Deaf Episcopalians.

SGEPG is currently the only deaf ministry serving the Diocese of Texas and has members from as far away as Thailand who participate regularly. The group is, in part, supported by Houston’s Canterbury Ministries, which provided a student interpreter for the voicing of bi-weekly compline and the interpreting weekly in-person worship in Spring of 2020. SGEPG is also loosely affiliated with the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf and looks to their leadership and members for ongoing support, worship materials, and friendship.

“Following the Anglican tradition of making worship available in one’s own language, it is the vision of SGEPG that Deaf individuals can worship together with their hearing families without the need of an interpreter and receive sacrament in American Sign Language,” said Waltz-Reasonover.

The group and its leadership recognize that in a hearing world and a hearing church, Deaf people are often relegated to being secondary or other, standard worship being conducted in English and interpreted into ASL.

Because ASL uses different syntax and grammar than English, “The Book of Common Prayer” is, by its nature, unavailable to those for whom ASL is a first language. To that end, the group’s leadership is planning a partnership with clergy and lay people in the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf to video prayers and excerpts from “The Book of Common Prayer” in ASL with English voicing.

“It is our shared goal that Deaf and Hearing people can access worship materials together as a common family,” said Waltz-Reasonover.

This year, the missional community has witnessed raising up leaders in the larger Episcopal Deaf community. The first Deaf EFM class recently graduated from Swanee’s new ASL EFM program, and the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf currently has three members in discernment for holy orders.

This is exciting news that harkens new leadership in the Episcopal Deaf community! With those facts in mind, SGEPG is currently seeking to raise up people from within its own community and empower them to reach those outside the Church. To that end, some of the group’s leadership will be offering missional training in ASL alongside the current missional training offered by the Diocese of Texas. SGEPG hopes to empower those in the community to go out and form regional Episcopal Deaf communities.  

SGEPG welcomes anyone who is curious about Deaf worship to come experience ministry in ASL. They also welcome anyone with a proficiency in ASL and would like to contribute as voice interpreters or in the signing of prayers, hymns, and creeds. To find weekly ministry offerings, visit this page or go to Facebook and search by hashtag #deafprayer or by the group’s name. Interested individuals can also look for bi-weekly Compline on Instagram under Houston Canterbury.

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