- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Brian Sims was sitting in traffic when a car with a booming stereo pulled up next to him.

Feeling vibrations from the pulsating vehicle, the Baptist pastor who ministers to the deaf got an idea: creating a one-of-kind church exclusively for deaf people.

Today, the Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church has more than 30 speakers beneath the floor so congregants can feel the vibration of the music.

Many churches provide sign language for deaf and partially deaf worshippers, but this church in a Nashville suburb is unique because it was built specifically with a deaf ministry in mind.

“There is a hearing church, basically, on every corner, but there’s not really any place like this,” Mr. Sims said. “It’s a place where the deaf know, ‘This is for me,’ that it meets their needs.”

The church has a loop system, which allows anyone with a hearing aid to tie into the sound system with the flip of a switch.

Each seat also is wider to give church members more space to communicate in sign language.

The Southern Baptist church has about 150 people who attend, with Sunday services that are simulcast for 600 to 700 people in 16 locations across the country.

Mr. Sims said he wants the church to become a training ground for deaf pastors and church leaders, because most seminaries currently require deaf students to have their own interpreters and most can’t afford such an expense.

The church held a pilot conference last year to train deaf pastors and leaders, with about 100 people from around the Southeast attending. A national conference is planned for this fall.

Texas architect Cynthia Stiles, who designed the church, said she couldn’t find any structure like it as she was in the planning stage.

Miss Stiles, who also is deaf, said she knew having a clear line of sight to the altar area as well as good lighting and music were crucial in the church design.

Often, churches that have interpreters for the deaf have carpets and pews that deaden vibration. Large pillars and other obstacles can obstruct views of the altar, and too many windows can cause a glare.

“If you’re a deaf person, I think it makes the service more meaningful to be able to feel the music from the floor,” Mr. Stiles said through an interpreter. “The [violet] coloring from the walls make it easier to see. The acoustics are easier to understand the message and to communicate better.”

The National Association for the Deaf estimated in the late 1990s that there were only about 1,000 mainly deaf congregations nationwide for the nearly 30 million deaf and partially deaf Americans.

Kathy Black, professor at Claremont School of Theology and a former chaplain at Gallaudet University for the deaf, said there are likely fewer deaf ministries now than in the past because many don’t get the funding they need to survive.

“A lot of the mainline Protestant churches are struggling financially, and when it comes to budget cuts, [deaf ministry] is often the first to go. It’s expensive to pay an interpreter,” she said. “Churches think it’s a large amount of money for a relatively small population of people.”

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