They use their hands to talk in rapid, dance-like motions that often mesmerize even those who can hear all the proceedings in the House of Deputies.
“I’m an actress, and I get a little dramatic,” laughs Donna Scarfe, a sign-language interpreter whose spouse, Alan Scarfe, is the new bishop of Iowa. But she and the other five interpreters don’t worry about how they appear to others, because they’re too busy making sure that the three deaf deputies in the House are able to take part in the work of Convention.
“The interpreters are very well qualified and they’re doing a wonderful job,” said the Rev. Virginia (“Ginger”) Nagel, deputy from Central New York and missioner to the deaf in the Diocese of Albany, interpreted by Rayelenn Casey, another of the official interpreters. “I couldn’t be a deputy without them.”
Other interpreters are Kathy Beetham, Diane Lynch, Nancy Diener and Jan Williamson.
The Rev. Barbara A. Allen, vicar of St. Barnabas Mission of the Deaf in Chevy Chase, Md., and the Rev. Elsa Pressentin of Bad Axe, Mich., coordinated the interpreters for the Convention.
Each of the deaf deputies is assigned an interpreter, so that they are able to sit with their delegations. The interpreters often work in teams of two, and the coordinators work closely with the deputies to make sure that interpreters are available whenever needed. For instance, on last Friday’s Morning of Prayer, each deaf deputy told the coordinators what presentation he or she wished to attend, and an interpreter was made available.
The presence of the deaf community at Convention, however, goes beyond sign-language interpreters.“Our main goal is to make the Church more aware that there are deaf people in the Church, and we are part of the Church,” said the Rev. Jay L. Croft, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf, speaking through an interpreter at the organization’s Exhibit Hall booth. Croft noted that many dioceses have no ministry at all with deaf persons: some few, including his home diocese of Alabama, along with Washington, D.C., Boston, and Pennsylvania, have congregations in which sign language is the primary language of worship.
It’s not only the profoundly deaf that are served by ECD. Ross cites statistics that ten percent of American people have a hearing loss—and, Ross joked, “the percentage goes up every fall when we begin our stewardship campaign.” More seriously, he said that it is important for the Church to fully include its deaf members, as his organization has advocated since its founding in 1881.
Convention is responding, he said: a resolution proposed by the Diocese of Wyoming would require that hearing assistance be made available at all future General Conventions. A similar resolution from the Diocese of Massachusetts calls for closed-captioning of all audio-visual materials at Convention.
But the deaf aren’t to be coddled or pitied, Cross says. In fact, he says, “I want to make it very clear that these are not interpreters for the deaf. They are sign language interpreters for you. The deaf provide interpreters for the sign-impaired.”