Montgomery church sets out to learn sign language, welcome deaf community

Montgomery church sets out to learn sign language, welcome deaf community

One Sunday as Pastor Paul Gourdine was preaching at Engaged Christian Church, Montgomery, he looked out and saw a touching sight — a lady in the congregation was translating the sermon into sign language for someone there who was hearing impaired.

“I had two thoughts — the first was that we needed to make sure that the deaf person felt comfortable and welcomed,” Paul Gourdine said. “The second was that we needed to make sure the person doing the sign language didn’t burn out.”

So he did something big — he challenged the whole church to learn some of the young man’s heart language.

Involving the church

“On Sunday mornings, we’ve been teaching the church to say ‘how are you doing,’ ‘I’m fine,’ ‘you’re welcome’ and other phrases,” he said. “Most of the kids who attend children’s church can sign the alphabet. We want to at least be able to greet them. We’re doing that so that these individuals don’t feel bypassed.”

And he didn’t stop there — he challenged the congregation to dig deeper and take some classes.

His wife, Mecco, was 1 of 6 who did.

“Our instructor, Loretta Hatchett, has a heart for this,” Mecco Gourdine said. “This is her ministry, this is her gift — she cares for hard-of-hearing individuals.”

That showed up in how Hatchett led the classes offered by the church — “she was tough on us,” Mecco Gourdine said with a laugh. “She walked in and just started talking with us in sign language from the beginning — there was no speaking.”

And as time went on, Hatchett challenged them with another project — to have a Christmas program that included the deaf community.
“She said, ‘I know some individuals who don’t even attend church because they don’t feel included or accepted,’” Mecco Gourdine said. “She suggested that maybe we could invite them for a silent dinner.”

So Engaged Christian Church did. On Dec. 17, 2017, they had a Christmas program with a sensitivity toward the hearing impaired. While the choir sang, a group of six stood up in front and signed the song. When the children sang, they incorporated sign language into their music.

And one of those songs — “Behold the Lamb” — was led by Scout, the hearing-impaired young man who had sparked Paul Gourdine’s vision in the first place.

“All of this would’ve been worth it just for Scout,” Mecco Gourdine said.

But on that morning, 35 hearing impaired people came, all invited by Hatchett.

“We were grateful for their presence,” Mecco Gourdine said. “We were just as excited as they were to have them there.”

And after the morning service, the church held a silent dinner for its 35 guests.

“We wanted to demonstrate love in action,” Paul Gourdine said. That’s been their goal ever since the church was planted in 2016 — they’ve engaged the community in a variety of ways. They ran an eye clinic that helped 1,000 patients. They provided the local high school with refrigerators to keep students’ medications cool. They regularly feed the homeless.

“Our purpose is to share the message of Jesus Christ, so we’re excited about this new way to do that,” Mecco Gourdine said of the dinner. “It was worth it just to hear them say when they were walking out the door that they had a good time and would be coming back.”

Neal Hughes, director of missions for Montgomery Baptist Association, said he’s seen it demonstrated over and over again that the word “engaged” is intentional for the church.

“They absolutely from the get-go engaged the community, and they have constantly looked for new ways to do that,” Hughes said of the church, which now meets in the former McGehee Road Baptist Church building. “Paul Gourdine is a visionary leader and he leads the church to meet human needs and plant gospel seeds.”

The deaf in the area have a place to call home now, he said. “It is a much-needed ministry and God has blessed it.”


Deaf church in Birmingham still going strong after six decades

For 60 years now, there’s been a church in Birmingham whose services are a little more silent than most.

But the gospel has resonated loudly in the hearts of its members and it continues to be a light to the community, according to Pastor Cromwell Josey.

In March 1957 the church was started at Woodlawn Baptist Church (now Liberty Park Baptist Church) by Neal Peyton, who served as its minister to the deaf. The deaf there wanted a preaching service in their language, and Peyton began signing that on Sundays.

In the coming decades, it moved several times and switched from being a signed service to an interpreted service, then back to being a signed service again. Now it is housed at the Mountain View Building on the campus of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham and is called the Birmingham Community Deaf Church (BCDC).

“We’re all just a family,” Josey said, according to an article in Vestavia Voice in March. “The deaf are scattered.”

But at BCDC, they come together. (TAB)


Upcoming events for the deaf

January 12–14
Deaf Men’s Zone at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, a deaf men’s retreat with a guest speaker in ASL (voice interpreted for hearing guests). For more information, visit

March 2–4
Alabama Baptist Conference of the Deaf at First Baptist Church, Oxford, an annual conference for deaf ministries and churches all over Alabama to gather for fellowship, workshops, meals and worship services. For more information, visit

July 23–27
Deaf Camp at Children’s Harbor in Alexander City, a weeklong children’s and youth camp for the deaf, HH (hard of hearing who move back and forth between hearing and deaf communities) and CODAs (children of deaf adults). For more information, visit (TAB)