What do you do when people with specific needs come into your midst at church? You figure out how to serve them – and serve with joy for as long as they need it.
More than 35 years ago, Deaf couple Warren and Booth walked into Belrose Anglican. They were good at reading lips, but the broad layout of the church made it difficult for them to follow everything that was said.
So, the parish’s Deaf ministry was born.
“It began just from love and a need,” says church member Barb Watt. She got the ministry under way, and soon a group of volunteers took it in turns to sit with the Booths to make sure they were looked after. And when, over time, Prayer Book services morphed into something less formal, support for the Booths ramped up to include printed copies of the sermon and prayers, guidance through each week’s songs, and someone they could turn to – literally – when needed.
“It began just from love and a need"
“The church is a very wide building, so the speaker up the front has to give a 180-degree overview – which is fine with a microphone but it’s very hard for someone who’s lip reading when the speaker’s face is turned,” Mrs Watt explains.
“So, we would let [them] choose. Anne might look at you and you would know straight away that she is not picking up what’s being said up the front. The lip reader would then repeat the words so she could follow along, but not in a way that would disturb anyone else. The assistant just made sure the whole time that Anne and Warren knew what was happening.”
The Booths themselves served wherever they could and were also regulars at Bible study, evening meetings and social events, as there would always be a member of the volunteer team there to lend a hand if necessary. This support, which grew into a number of friendships, revolutionised their experience of church.
“Without a doubt!” Mrs Booth says. “We were so thankful for all the help we received at St Stephen’s. We really felt loved and cared for.”
Mr Booth died in 2019 (with volunteers providing extra support during his illness), but the ministry continued until a couple of months ago when Mrs Booth moved further north with her son and his family.
“It was amazing,” she says. “In hard times we knew we could turn to the church. It’s a family really... I am quite nervous to attend a new church as all I know is St Stephen’s! It will take time to adjust and settle in.”
Belrose rector the Rev Andrew Paterson says Mrs Booth will be a blessing to whichever church she joins, and that Belrose will miss her “sunny personality and vibrant joy in the Lord”.
He adds that when he arrived as rector two years ago, he was “very moved to see the patience, care and love shown by those assisting Anne so unassumingly during the services each week... I’ve been very grateful to those before me at St Stephen’s who saw a need, found out how to best assist and then got on with the job of doing so.”
Mr Paterson encourages other congregations to look around them and consider whether support is needed for anyone in their midst.
“It may seem a daunting task if we’re unfamiliar with the people’s needs,” he says. “Having a conversation and finding appropriate information on how to best assist is a good first step.”