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Awards Spotlight - Signs for Worship

Introducing Signs for Worship, Promoting Inclusion Award Winner (contributions from various members)

Why do you love what you do? Signs for Worship is, above all, a worshipping community. British Sign Language (BSL) provides a way to engage uniquely with the meaning behind words and song lyrics which is more intimate than sung worship in English. The opportunity to participate in this act of intimate worship and to be able to help lead both hearing and deaf people to feel closer to God is an immense privilege.

Prior to joining SFWW I had very little knowledge of Deaf culture or the local Deaf community, being a part of the group has increased my awareness of the need for greater accessibility for worship, and indeed in the wider community, and helped me realise that there is a lot more to learn and so much potential for future development.

I LOVE seeing people interacting with others who they would never have before, namely bringing Deaf and hearing people together; people who’d never signed before being able to introduce themselves to Deaf people, and then conversations start. That’s just wonderful.

I've been interested in BSL and this increased while teaching a Deaf pupil who signed. Learning to sign has been such a journey, but I love being able to be part of an inclusive community and to express worship with my whole body (not just my voice).

What is your proudest moment from the work you've done in your community? Leading songs at the Methodist Women's conference. Having grown up in the Methodist church I felt like I was 'home' and seeing so many people singing and wanting to learn how to communicate with Deaf people was amazing!

I think the proudest moment for me being asked to take over interpreting the Deaf church at St. Paul’s Church in Walsall. The late Rev. Peter Lees used to lead them, but he was retiring. He contacted Colin to ask if we could help and we have interpreted the services for the last few years and even through the current situation we are able to provide access through online services.

That’s like asking someone to choose their favourite child! There are so many to choose from.

When one of our members, who’s visually impaired and lives in a world so different to the visual world Deaf people live in, started to learn BSL and then led one of our services - it left me in awe. Everyone came together to make it happen. Our group is made up of a diverse bunch of people, from all sorts of social and ethnic backgrounds, and also some disabled people, others autistic, ADHD, young, old, and of course Deaf and hearing, and the LGBT+ community is represented well. We also welcome people of no faith or other faiths – we simply gather to worship and people have spoken about how good the atmosphere and environment is; safe, protected, loving, caring, enabling, inclusive, encouraging – and there’s always lots of cake!

The Awards are about bringing people together, can you tell us about some of the great things that are happening to bring people together in your sector? Or alternatively, what would you like to see in Walsall to support those from different backgrounds and areas to come together. We visit churches and other organisations and often we are an introduction to BSL and Deaf culture and awareness and our public performances likewise raise the profile. We also provide BSL interpreting to churches, which further increases access which would otherwise be denied to Deaf people on a local level. Through what we’ve done, many have started their BSL journeys after seeing something we’ve done or after having attended our meetings – that’s a wonderful thing to be involved in.

The recent closure of the Walsall Deaf Club was a major blow to the local Deaf community. On top of this, not all of our Deaf friends have been able to participate in our online meetings since the start of the first lockdown in March. We hope that when we finally return to something akin to normal we can reach out to those who have been isolated and make them feel part of the community again.

I would also like to see more done for the LGBT community as there are very few outreach opportunities available especially at present with LGBT bars having once again closed for the second lockdown.

Can you tell us about an individual/organisation in Walsall/nationally/globally that you admire and why? Funky Kidz, based in Bentley, Walsall. They bring together families with Deaf children from across Walsall and the locale, and from very small beginnings have done some incredible work in an exceptionally short amount of time. Wayne and Simone are heroes – complete and utter respect.

Deaf sign song artist Fletch (Jayne Fletcher- Brander) because, whilst her performances aren’t the same genre, watching her is uttering amazing and I use her performances to improve my own Christian songs and hymns.

Street Pastors – late night revellers and those pouring out of the pubs can be extremely vulnerable. The Street Pastors help those who may be upset, ill, separated from their friends, need a shoulder to cry on, diffuse hostile and intense situations which alcohol exacerbates – and all of them are volunteers, staying up until the middle of the night in order to help others, without any judgement nor prejudice. They have a simple message of ‘love your neighbour’.

Can you share something that you have learnt during the pandemic?

We can meet together online, safely and at a distance, but the sense of community, belonging and fun remains.

Being part of a worshipping community has helped maintain regular connections with friends and the wider local community, it has also been vital for the mental health of many friends, especially those who have felt particularly isolated since the closure of places of worship during both lockdowns.

It has also reinforced the continued importance of shared faith and regular acts of worship, even though worshipping online can be a very different experience, it is still possible to experience genuine intimacy in worship.

I have had to shield, and I have learnt to value home as a safe place, and not a prison. I appreciate having access to the internet – and magnification software which allows me to use my computer as I am visually impaired, because it has kept me in contact with the outside world. I appreciate the love of my friends and my family even more than before, that as individuals we are nothing without a community.

I have become more aware of other groups in Walsall through the online meetings we have held on Zoom.

Video editing! I coordinate the BSL provision for St Matthew’s Church, Walsall, and when everything went online, so did the BSL side of things. I’ve learnt how to use a green screen, how to integrate an interpreter on to a pre-recorded video so that it looks like what you see on the TV – it looks really good!


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