Deaf Ministry
eucharist for the deaf - September 8

Our vision in offering a service specifically for Deaf people is similar to the vision which led Thomas Cranmer and others to create the first Book of Common Prayer. Issued in 1549, it gave people in the Church of England a program of worship in their own language (rather than in Latin).  This vision was reiterated in the 39 Articles of Faith adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1801, which states: “It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people” (BCP, p.872 – XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth).  Our ancestors in the faith believed that all people had the right to read the Scriptures and to worship in a language they understood.  Deaf people also have this right, and the Churches must find creative ways to give them access to God’s Word and the Church’s Sacraments. 

We have designed a simple liturgy in “the language of the people” (in this case, American Sign Language) that will be accessible to all Deaf people, regardless of their proficiency in English, and that will reflect the ways of relating that are common in the Deaf community.  (Among the various types of disabilities, deafness is unique because Deaf people share a unique language and culture, unlike any other group.)  This liturgy is simpler and easier to understand, less wordy and easier to follow, and engages the congregation in dialogue.  It is an experimental liturgy and will be adapted as needed to meet the needs of a Deaf congregation.

We are adapting the worship of the Church to the language and culture of the Deaf in order to bring the Good News of the Gospel to those who have no way of hearing it.  Deaf churches are few and far between.  They are invariably small and poor, and receive little attention and support from the hearing Church.  We want to thank St. Boniface for making this service possible and for giving us the space to worship in our own language and culture.  We plan to offer a Deaf service on the first Sunday of each month in the hope that we can attract and build up a small congregation of the Deaf here at St Boniface.

a warm welcome
Dick MahaffyHello!  My name is Fr. Richard (Dick) Mahaffy.  I am an ordained deaf priest of the Episcopal Church.  I communicate with people orally (i.e. through speech and lip-reading) and with Sign Language.  I was educated at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Williston-Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts.  I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.  I worked in the insurance, investment, and financial service industry for over fifteen years.  In 2011, I began attending the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2016.  I was ordained as a deacon in May 2016 and as a priest in January 2017 through the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.   In June 2017, I was elected President of the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf (ECD) at their convention in Birmingham, Alabama.
 
Many people don’t know that the Episcopal Church welcomes everyone and celebrates them as children of God regardless of their gender, race or sexuality.  The love of God is our central message because it was the central message of Jesus, who showed God’s love by welcoming the marginalized and the outcasts. 
 
A deaf church should be a place that welcomes deaf (and hearing) people, no matter what their particular spirituality might be.  We hope to engage with the deaf and hard of hearing to form an Episcopal community that worships primarily in Sign Language, with oral support.  Most deaf people prefer to worship together in Sign Language rather than attend interpreted worship services which are designed for Hearing people.  Deaf worship reflects deaf culture.  It allows deaf people to be themselves, and to worship in their natural language.  The deaf church is an important place for deaf people to meet and socialize, to learn about their faith and share it with others in a welcoming environment.  We want to attract deaf people to the gospel of Good News.
 
At the time of the Reformation, Anglican Churches gave people the opportunity to worship in their own language rather than in Latin.  Deaf people also have this right, and churches for the deaf offer creative ways to give deaf people equal access to God’s Word and to the Church’s sacraments.  In deaf congregations, our services are in American Sign Language and reflect the norms of deaf society.  The liturgy is adapted to meet the needs of the deaf people who are present, and to encourage their full participation.
 
We want to focus on new ways of ministering to deaf people and offering them the resources they need. We’d love to have you join us!  We are always eager to find out what deaf people want or need from the Church.  If you have ideas or suggestions, we would be glad to receive them! 
 
I can be reached by text to 413-387-9837 or email and I hope to hear from you!
 
Blessings to you!