Without saying a word, three local church choirs are able to help other members of their congregations feel the music.
As a song plays, the choirs interpret the words through sign language.
The actions paired with worship songs make for a moving experience, choir members said.
“It’s like singing. You feel a song, and you express yourself,” said Amy Hart, a member of Central Christian Church’s signing choir. “It’s the same with signing a song. You feel the music, and you feel passionate about it, and who doesn’t feel passionate about the Lord?”
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Paula Kemp, Hart’s mother and director of the signing choir at the Seymour church, said it’s a worship experience in itself for the members.
“I think we feel probably more in a worshipful way than what the congregation even does watching it,” she said. “It’s kind of like when you’re presenting a song or singing a song. You tend to worship more sometimes because you can give more.”
The hope is that the congregation feels the same way, Kemp said.
“They are so attentive. It’s like you could hear a pin drop when it’s going on,” she said. “It’s just like they can’t stop watching. They just want to take it in.”
First Pentecostal Church of Brownstown also has a signing team. Member Jami Caffee said it’s a unique way of worshiping.
“People don’t see this every day,” she said. “They are thinking, ‘We’re just going to hear preaching and sing some songs.’ When we get up here and we sign, people just see that and think that’s something unique, and we like to see that. That may just be what brings them back.”
‘Our way of
praise’Brooke Bowman, another member of the Brownstown team, said it’s also a good escape.“Sometimes, we come in here from our busy weeks, family problems, issues with work, school, whatever goes on, and this is our way of praise. This is like our thing, and we get it out,” she said. “We love it, but it’s not our only way because there are many ways we can get our praise out.”
Brownstown’s team was started by music minister Rebekah Goen and Debbie Carmichael in 2006. This year, Carmichael and her husband moved on to pastor a church in Scottsburg, so Abigail Everage took over as the team’s leader.
Her first job was coordinating the group’s hourlong performance at the recent Jackson County Watermelon Festival in Brownstown. She also leads the team’s monthly performances at the church.
Everage has been a member of the team for eight years.
“I used to take sign language classes when I was little, in like first grade, then I kind of stopped it,” she said. “I go to Seymour Christian Academy, and it’s one of my foreign languages, so I started learning it back in ninth grade.”
The team now has seven members, and it adds children into some of its performances.
“It’s a ministry that I like to be a part of because there are a ton of deaf people in the world, and they have their secluded groups because no one else knows sign language to talk to them,” Everage said. “Where I work, they’ll come in and say, ‘Hi,’ and then you have a conversation. It’s cool to be able to do that.”
Tiffani Bowman said she has liked being involved with the signing team.
“My parents would get me DVDs to learn sign, and then when I found out they did it here, I just kind of jumped in and did it with them, too,” she said.
‘Love serving the
Lord’When she started with the team several years ago, she was the youngest member. Now, at 22, she is the oldest.“Being a part of this group, I think we get closer,” Bowman said. “We all grew up together. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we all get to share one thing in common — that we all love serving the Lord.”
Central Christian’s choir began about five years ago after Kemp had visited another local church, The Tabernacle, and saw its signing group.
“It was really, really neat,” she said. “That’s what kind of hit me, I thought, ‘Oh, we could do that.’ I’ve done sign language for a majority of my life, and I felt God just laying on my heart to do something like that, that it would be neat.”
Kemp’s ex-husband, who died a couple of months ago, was deaf, so she, her daughter and her two sons all learned sign language.
“It was very easy, and once I started learning it, I just wanted to know more,” Kemp said.
“There are a lot of different signs that I don’t know, so I’ve learned a lot more from doing the signing choir than what I knew before,” Hart added.
Another member of the group, Betsy McDonald, said the way Kemp teaches the signs makes it easy for the choir to learn.
“I can’t sing,” she said, smiling. “I really enjoy music, and so it was my one way of being able to do something with the church that was a little different than leading a children’s group, which I always have done.”
‘Give glory to
God’Over the years, Kemp said, membership has ranged from single digits up to 20. The choir typically has one performance in the fall and one in December, both during a regular Sunday worship service and consisting of one song.“We try to do things that are meaningful so that (the congregation) can take in the signs,” she said. “Most of the songs have been slow so that we can really give glory to God, and it’s evident the congregation knows that. It really touches their hearts.”
One member of the Seymour choir, Nicole Wheeler, wears a cochlear implant. Without that, she can’t hear anything.
Kemp said Wheeler has “really, really blossomed” since joining the choir. Hart and McDonald both said they have noticed that, too.
“We’ve kind of watched her since she was fairly young when she started here, and she was very introverted at the time,” McDonald said. “She got the hearing device, and then she started doing the signing. She’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t seem to mind at all getting up there by herself.”
Hart said Wheeler doesn’t let having a cochlear implant hold her back.
Earlier this year, Wheeler completed a senior project in which she raised money for the Seymour Noon Lions Club, and the club surprised her with the Dr. Richard T. Miyamoto Fellowship award. Miyamoto has been recognized around the world for his work to expand the use of the surgically implanted electronic device, and he also performed Wheeler’s cochlear implant surgery.
“She doesn’t act like she has a disability,” Hart said. “She is very driven. I’m really proud of her. She’s a great kid.”