My ward has long hosted the Deaf contingent in our area. We have a few pews worth of Deaf people and families attending every week. Between hearing family-members, ASL missionaries, occasional earnest but rusty signing from some of us, and some fabulous professional yet volunteer interpretors, we have a steady stream of people stepping up to make the Deaf program work in our speaking meetings. They also have a Deaf Sunday School class and Elders Quorum. Once a month, there is a Deaf Sacrament Meeting they hold after our normal meetings which generally draws even more people in from further out in the region. Our primary always signs at least a few songs in the Primary Program, but there are no Deaf Primary kids. We have ASL classes running pretty regularly to help the rest of us be in a better position to communicate with this segment of the ward, but it seems that a fairly small group of us really try. By far, the best integrated Deaf members of the ward are those married to hearing members with whom we can easily communicate.

About a year ago, our stake was reorganized and the Spanish members of our stake were also assigned to our ward. We have Spanish language translation for Sacrament and Spanish Sunday School classes and Elders Quorums. The Spanish speaking sisters in Relief Society receive no translation, although it is clear that many would use it if it were available. The Spanish-speaking members that are best-integrated into the ward at large are those who speak English. I am not aware of an Spanish language classes offered. We do have Spanish-language hymnals, and we only sing hymns that are in both English and Spanish. We regularly confuse visitors by displaying two different sets of hymn numbers up front.

What is most interesting to me is the differences between the treatments of these two language minorities. Interpretation is ALWAYS provided for us when Deaf members speak, bear testimony, or bless the Sacrament. When Spanish-speaking members speak or bear testimony, they may or may not be translated. When they bless the Sacrament, we don’t translate at all. The Sacrament thing really fascinates me–by not translating the Spanish, we are essentially communicating to the ward at large: you know what they are saying, you don’t have to hear it in your language. Which is fair enough. But when we voice the ordinances performed in ASL, we are also communicating: either that we know you won’t be comfortable opening your eyes and watching a prayer as Deaf people do, or that you, the non-signing congregation, cannot be sure what these guys are saying (even though they say it every week) and you need voicing so you can be on board. It is interesting to me. I would be happy to watch the Sacrament Prayer, but maybe others wouldn’t.

I have no idea who decided to put all three language groups in one ward. It is not, I think, a very natural fit. Yet, I am very happy to be a part of such a lively ward, and to have access to so many people with such different life experiences. I just hope that I am never caught interpreting when someone breaks into Spanish–I have seen that happen, and the fabulous Sister missionary who was interpreting just kept right on going. My Spanish is strictly restricted to that which was taught on Sesame Street.