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Blessed to Bridge Two Worlds


The pastor and his church, Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf.

When Leo Yates is not working at Hopkins Hospital as an intern in Clinical Pastoral Education, he’s busy as the pastor of Magothy United Methodist Church of the Deaf.

Situated on Mountain Road in Pasadena, Md., the classic white frame church with its stained glass windows and steeple is one of only two United Methodist deaf churches in the country. Chartered in 1982, it is a cooperative parish that shares its 1859 structure and some programs with a much older, hearing church.

Thanks in large part to Yates, the deaf church is thriving. Three years ago, when he became pastor, there were only about a dozen parishioners in worship on Sundays. Now there are nearly 50. About two-thirds are deaf; the rest are connected to the deaf in some way.

The service is conducted almost entirely in American Sign Language (ASL) with plenty of visuals, like Power Point and videos. Other than that, it’s pretty much like any other church service. “We have a sermon, scripture reading and communion every week. We even have a choir,” says Yates. “I’m trying to get them to be more innovative with their singing. So with ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain,’ for instance, I encourage them to be more expressive in their signing. They love it.”

For as long as he can remember, Yates has inhabited a world that is both bicultural and bilingual.

He is a “coda,” or the hearing Child of Deaf Adults. His first language was ASL, and when he started school he had to learn an entirely different language: spoken English. “I’ve been bilingual ever since.”

 


Clinical Pastoral Education intern Leo Yates conducting a service in American Sign Language.

In his “pre-Jesus days,” as he sometimes refers to them, Yates was an interpreter. His assignments included work at the White House, a NASA launch, and hospital emergency and operating rooms. He doesn’t interpret at Hopkins Hospital, though. “Here, my role is as chaplain.”

Yates’ CPE internship is a requirement of his academic program at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., a graduate professional school of the United Methodist Church. As an intern, he visits patients and families on specific hospital units. “It’s great to be a part of a place that opens its doors to provide clinical training and pastoring to the sick and the dying,” Yates says. “I have seen the sickest of the sick and I have seen great sadness. The one thing that I can bring is hope for recovery. When a visit is particularly difficult, I can talk to my colleagues, my supervisors. I also journal. Certainly, I pray.”

So far, Yates hasn’t come across any deaf patients. His services as an interpreter would not be required, though, because the hospital, through Patient Relations, contracts with an agency to provide interpreters and, in fact, receives requests for them practically every day.

“Interpreters are important, particularly in a hospital,” says Yates. “Reading lips, communicating with hastily written notes is not good for patients. It’s not fair, because it’s not their language, and it can lead to misunderstandings and fear.”

Yates’ understanding of how the hearing and deaf communities interact runs deep. “I see myself as a bridge between both worlds. It’s been a real blessing.”

—Anne Bennett Swingle

 

 

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