SYKESVILLE — Finding a church in Carroll County to meet the Alfords' needs was initially a challenge.
Not only did they have to consider the congregation, the pastor and the doctrine, they also needed a sign languageinterpreter.
But rather than travel to the Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Baltimore, as do some deaf families in Carroll, Mark and Patty Alford decided to try St. Paul's United Methodist Church. After all, their two children -- who both can hear -- were already happy atthe services.
"I had been going with a friend and told my parentsabout it," said Marie Alford, who occasionally interprets for her parents. "They came to see what (the pastors) talked about and they really liked it. The people were really friendly, and we liked what Rev.Bud (Brown) preached to us."
Eager to meet the Alfords' need, theRev. Linda Patterson -- assistant pastor at St. Paul's -- contacted the Rev. Peggy Johnson, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf.
Johnson then found three interpreters -- Colleen Rice of Sykesville, Leslie Basil of Catonsville, Baltimore County, and BrendaCreighton of Columbia, Howard County -- to help the congregation start a ministry for the deaf.
The interpreters have worked each Sunday since December, and beginning sign language classes now are offered to parishioners.
"This is part of our ministry at Christ Church of the Deaf," Johnson said. "Whenever we find a budding deaf ministry, this is our way of giving it a hand and a pat on the back to say, 'We're glad you're doing this.' "
Johnson also said she understandsthe Alfords' situation. Although Christ Church of the Deaf tries to provide Sunday School for the hearing children of their parishioners,most programs are geared to deaf adults.
"At a hearing church with an interpreter, the kids have a program, plus they can get something out of it as well," Johnson said. "We wish more churches were doingthis, so more deaf people could have access to learning about God and have access to the spiritual aspect of their lives."
St. Paul's interpreters are paid, as an organist or pastor would be, Patterson said. But the added expense is worth it, she said.
"This is a decision the congregation has made for the long term," Patterson said. "Wesee the ministry expanding as we learn and grow and understand the deaf community."
The Alfords had attended several other county churches, but none would commit to providing an interpreter.
"We went to one church for a year, and they didn't bother to get an interpreter," said Mark Alford. "They didn't really know what we were talking about."
The commitment to the program will show the community how the church ministry is growing, Patterson said. The Alfords are St. Paul's only deaf parishioners, though they have invited friends to attend.
"There's a real trust issue involved, and it's going to take time to show that this is a commitment St. Paul's has made," Pattersonsaid.