Not Lost in Translation: Deaf California Congregation Fluent in Love
By Kevin Spear
The first thing both Pastors David Collett and Francis Casale want to make clear is that there is a difference between a Deaf ministry and a church that has American Sign Language (ASL) as its primary language. Inter-Community Church of God in Covina, California, is one location serving two, distinct cultures and churches.
Some churches have a Deaf interpreter. One of the challenges with this approach is that interpreting a sermon in ASL is like interpreting a distinct language. There is always a chance meaning and nuance gets lost in the translation. Word order and expression in ASL are different than spoken English. Pastor Casale has the advantage of preaching in his native tongue of ASL. The Covina, California, congregation has about fifty-five attendees on a given Sunday.
Pastor Collett commented, “What we have is a Deaf congregation that is led by a Deaf pastor (now deaf-blind because of Usher syndrome). We chose about twenty-four years ago (just before I came to Inter-Community Church of God) to operate as a single church with two congregations, and a single board and budget.”
Pastor Casale has been in ministry for thirty years. He holds a PhD in theology and in counseling education. In California, he fought hard to establish an ASL church. He observed that there were other churches in the area for the Deaf, but strongly felt there needed to be one for the Church of God.
COVID-19 has caused all churches to adjust to health and government demands. Because of the restrictions in California, both churches are meeting online only. Pastor Casale has stayed home. He is signing his sermons using FaceTime, Facebook, and YouTube. He has found FaceTime to be the most effective for his congregants.
He and Pastor Collett continue to keep in touch during the pandemic. Pastor Casale has missed the one-to-one interaction in the last six months. It can be especially lonely since he is now deaf and blind. In the past, he has been active with Silent Blessings Deaf Ministries and the Christian Deaf Missionary Alliance.
Pastor Casale implores the Church of God to support the needs of the Deaf. The hearing community can be so unaware of this community and its needs. He encourages churches with Deaf ministries to also get their Deaf parishioners involved in the church.
This can be a challenge because the Deaf community can experience bias like racial minorities. They can be looked down on, and assumed to be handicapped in more ways than not being able to hear.
You can see Dr. Casale’s teachings on his YouTube channel. However, he advises there isn’t a voice translation. For me (the author), it was a very good way to experience what it is like for the Deaf to be in a hearing world without an interpreter.
Kevin Spear has worked for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and has regularly contributed time and talent to the work of Church of God Ministries. He is a ministry partner with his wife Paula, an ordained minister in the Church of God.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.