By Rev. Dr. Leo Yates, Jr.
Picture it: hands are signing, longtime friends are hugging, and greetings are shared by Deaf and hard-of-hearing United Methodists who traveled to Dallas, TX to attend the conference hosted by the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf (UMCD), a Deaf caucus of The United Methodist Church. Attendees made their way to Walnut Hill UMC, a ministry of Lovers Lane UMC, where conference participants were greeted by the associate pastor, Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth and his wife Mary Kay. While the UMCD board met on Nov. 2, the conference itself was Nov. 3-5. The conference theme is “Ministry of All Believers.”
The UMCD board, along with committee members of Deaf and Hard-of Hearing-Ministries (DHM), a partnership with Global Ministries, met to discuss caucus matters.
On the agenda was to establish a new membership coordination committee, strategize how to have UMCD recognized by the denomination as an official caucus, creating strategies to collaborate with other caucuses who have hard-of-hearing and late-deafened people, and to hear reports by the UMCD jurisdiction leaders (chapters of UMCD).Conference attendees participated in one of three leadership development tracks. Karen Miller of the Pen-Del Annual Conference and Carol Stevens of the Southeastern Jurisdiction taught Certified Lay Servant classes (basic and advanced), while Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder and Rev. Dr. Leo Yates taught servant leadership workshops such as Church Leadership Committees 101 and Spiritual Gifts.
The UMCD business meeting was held in the afternoon of Nov. 3 where Rev. VanGilder, the board’s newly elected historian, oriented the UMCD members to the UMCD history, which first formed as an unofficial caucus in 1972 following General Conference. Also, participants learned from Rev. Yates how UMCD is looking to partner with LYNC (the Love Your Neighbor Coalition), a coalition of caucuses that have a social justice focus and to seek official caucus status by the denomination.
Rev. VanGilder was the keynote speaker on Friday evening, speaking about the orders of ministry in the denomination. He encouraged UMCD members to live out their baptism through serving their churches and communities. The dinner included the recognition of DHM committee members who concluded their terms, which was presented by Bryan Branson (the committee’s president). Also, Rev. Uwezo Mwanjala was recognized for his tireless work (of interpreting) for Ms. Stevens and by Rev. Hudspeth for weekly conference calls with Yatosha Deaf ministry leaders in Tanzania. Rev. Dr. Peter Mageto, the Vice-Chancellor of Africa University, was awarded a “Deaf Light” award for his service and support for admitting and graduating a Deaf student at Africa University.
The following day, participants spent a good part of their day in leadership trainings. The UMCD business meeting in the afternoon included the election of new board members and affirmation of the work to be officially recognized as a caucus by the denomination.
Conference participants attended a dinner banquet Saturday evening. Rev. Dr. Stan Copeland, senior pastor of Lovers Lane UMC, introduced the guest speaker, the Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo, the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race.
Rev. Arroyo shared he completed a Deaf Ministry seminary course at Wesley Theological Seminary taught by Bishop Peggy Johnson and has deaf family members. He also noted GCORR’s partnership with the Disability Ministries Committee, DHM’s sister committee, and his support of the Association of Ministers with Disabilities of The UMC (a disability caucus). Rev. Arroyo encouraged the UMCD board and dinner guests to continue their work, stating “Use your Deaf voice. The United Methodist Church needs you and the gifts you share with us.” Attendees' hands were waiving in the air with applause when Rev. Arroyo showed his stole that has the interpreting symbol sewn on to it that represents interpreting ministries, a type of Deaf ministry. Persons and ministry groups in Deaf ministry were also recognized and given awards following Rev. Arroyo’s remarks.
Rev. Hudspeth was awarded the Hasenstab award for his work in Deaf ministry and the Yatosha Deaf Ministry project in Tanzania was awarded the Moylan award for the congregation’s ministry work in their community.
Rev. Tom Hudspeth is the consultant for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries Consultant, as well as a workshop leader who taught, "Demystifying the Bible." The interpreting workshop was a Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf-sponsored workshop on interpreting Christian content.
The conference had 53 participants from 12 states (Hawaii, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas) the District of Columbia and Zimbabwe. Funding for this conference was largely supported by the North East Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries, the Endowment Fund of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf.
Such funding made possible for many with limited income to take part in this conference which met for the first time in five years due to COVID-19 related delays. The conference concluded on Sunday with a remembrance of UMCD saints who had died since the last UMCD conference in 2018 and worship at Walnut Hill UMC--along with a group photo.