By Jane Stone and Rev. Clay Oglesbee
The Gospel of Mark (7:32-37) tells the story of Jesus curing a deaf man with touch and speaking the Aramaic word Ephphatha!, which means, "be opened!" His command opened the way for new hearing. Today, we often hear appeals for greater openness or "accessibility" for a variety of physical needs or disabilities. One of the most common of these, but seldom one that is addressed in churches or other businesses or organizations, is for hearing-impaired persons. One in 10 children, youth, and adults is hearing-impaired, and an estimated 25 to 30 percent of adults over age 65 are similarly impaired in the U.S.
First United Methodist Church of Red Wing has recently become the first congregation in Red Wing to "open" the way for hearing-impaired persons by installing a T-Loop electronic hearing system in the sanctuary. This system brings the announcements, prayers, scripture readings, and sermons directly into the ears of those with hearing aids. All that is needed is a visit to a hearing aid provider to activate a T-coil within the hearing aid. The system also works with cochlear implants. Those who do not wear hearing aids, or whose hearing aids do not have the T-coil, can still use the system by wearing an assistive listening device, or headphones, for the T-Loop System.
Church members and worship participants have enthusiastically reported that they can immediately hear the difference. For some, the effect is dramatic. Worship is opened for them in a whole new way. They are not struggling to hear, or missing portions of what is said. Some persons who are only slightly hard of hearing are also saying that the T-Loop earphones dramatically increase what they hear. More than one of the older members have remarked that they will attend worship more frequently because they can hear so much more of what is said. There are already requests for installation in another fellowship area of the church where adult forums and classes are often held.
The installation was made by Midwest Loops and Advantage Computer Systems, Inc. The company has completed installations across the Twin Cities metropolitan area, as well as in other communities in the state. Lake Harriet UMC and Messiah UMC are among previous installations, which also include the Twin Cities Metropolitan Airport and portions of the Mayo Hospitals and Clinics in Rochester.
Such installations confirm the United Methodist Social Principles which affirm, among other things, that "persons with disabilities (have a) rightful place in church and society..." and that the churches bear responsibility to be in ministry with those with "particular needs in the areas of mobility, communication, intellectual comprehension or personal relationships" (Principles 162.I).
If you're interested in learning more about T-loops and how you might install one at your church, click here or contact Rev. Clay Oglesbee at 507-251-9283.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church