Despite a partial hearing loss that requires Rev. Tom Hudspeth to wear hearing aids, he was raised to live in a hearing world.

 

As a child, he attended the Central Institute for the Deaf in Missouri , where he was taught speech and lip reading. American Sign Language was excluded from the curriculum.

 

Hudspeth’s first contact with a deaf community came during a ministry trip to Oklahoma while attending seminary at Southern Methodist University.

 

“I felt a sense of kinship with them,” he says.

 

Suddenly he saw the underlying purpose to his religious calling. Hudspeth dedicated himself to becoming a conduit between the church and its deaf members. The path would eventually take him to Lovers Lane United Methodist Church to lead its emerging deaf ministry program.

 

Most churches offer no programs for deaf members, Hudspeth says, and

Lovers Lane

is the only United Methodist Church in the area with a deaf ministry. Although the ministry’s membership is relatively small — 20 active participants — it has doubled in size during the past year.

 

“Deaf ministry is more than just an interpreter at worship service,” Hudspeth says. “It’s equipping them to be disciples of the church.”

 

Peggy Key of Carrollton joined

Lovers Lane

two years ago because of the church’s dedication to its deaf members. Her daughter, 16-year-old Nicole Sampson, is deaf.

 

Nicole previously attended another church with a deaf friend, but they relied on the friend’s mother to translate.

 

“I don’t think the church really understood Nicole and how to help her,” Key says. “Here they are really accepting. They try to work with the deaf students.”

 

 Lovers Lane provides sign language interpreters at its 11 a.m. services and most children’s classes and youth meetings. Hudspeth also leads the Cross-Hearts-Hands Bible class for deaf adults.

 

Nicole attends Jean Massieu Academy in Arlington , a charter school that requires all teachers and students to communicate with sign language. She says attending a church with such a dedication to its deaf members helps her focus on God rather than how she communicates.

 

Nicole and 19-year-old classmate Rebecca Johnson of Farmers Branch, who also is deaf, have attended summer camp and went on a mission trip to with the church’s youth group.

 

The church’s dedication to deaf ministry started about two years before Hudspeth arrived in 2001.

 

A Sunday school class discussion about ministering to the disabled struck a cord because one class member was deaf. The class initiated the search for a sign language interpreter.

 

Hudspeth has tried to start deaf ministries at two other churches. Although welcomed, they never gained popularity, he says.

 

“The hearing church just wasn’t equipped or ready for a deaf ministry,” he says.

 

About the time Hudspeth decided to move his family back to Dallas, his brother passed by Lovers Lane United Methodist Church and spotted a notice about the deaf ministry on the marquee.

 

“I had still been struggling with what shape or form my deaf ministry would take,” he says. “I felt that God was calling me to this.”

 

Hudspeth continues to expand the deaf ministry at

Lovers Lane

. He serves as president of the United Methodist Church ’s national committee on deaf ministry.

 

The church is hosting a quarterly area-wide deaf ministry service Feb. 24. About 130 people are expected to attend.

 

The Cross-Hearts-Hands class participates in community outreach programs and tries to draw in more people. The church’s sign choir performs periodically at regular and special services. And Hudspeth teaches sign language classes to hearing church members.

 

About 44,000 deaf people live in the Dallas area, Hudspeth says, and fewer than 10 percent attend churches. He says the deaf often feel isolated from religion because of their communication needs.

 

“There is a hunger for the gospel,” he says. “I want to provide a place where deaf people can respond to the call of God.”

 


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.