A silent sermon is preached every Sunday at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Magill, South Australia. Yet while they may be low in volume, these services are perhaps the most interactive in the Lutheran community.
Held in Australian Sign Language, or Auslan, the Adelaide Deaf Community Church (ADCC) services take place weekly. Participants are encouraged to take part in discussion on the sermon theme, often resulting in animated conversation and sharing.
Deaf Ministry has been supported by the Lutheran Church since the 1970s, led by Pastor Michael Prenzler since 2017. A hearing pastor with no prior experience of deafness, Michael spent several years learning Auslan before taking on the role of pastor at Magill, where he ministers to both the Deaf and hearing congregations in a shared role, based at Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
This year represents a significant milestone for the ADCC, with a new Specific Ministry Pastor expected to be ordained, Julian Mazzeo. This Easter marks one year since Julian, who is profoundly deaf, preached his first sermon – one he wrote himself. Julian says he feels a strong call to the role.
‘I feel that God wants me to speak to the Deaf community and that he is showing me how to teach, how to help to fix relationships, how to understand the best fit for Deaf culture and how to create opportunities and be an encouragement.’
Preaching in the richly expressive and visual language of Auslan is also something that Julian finds rewarding.
‘Auslan is wonderful. It’s so creative, there’s so much story-telling and it’s clear and easy to understand.’
Pastor Michael echoes the sentiment.
‘I love the deaf approach to worship, where all members are encouraged to participate in and contribute to the service,’ he says. ‘I also find it personally satisfying to worship in Auslan. There is something very profound about worshipping God with one’s whole body.’
Technology has become an important tool for the ADCC, and the congregation is thankful for a live-streaming system that was installed at Magill in 2020.
‘In some of my earlier travels I met some deaf Christians interstate who said they had no local church to attend, and I asked whether there was something the ADCC could do,’ says Pastor Michael.
‘We then applied for and received an LLL Mission Grant, and with contributions from both Pilgrim and the ADCC we were able to install cameras in the church shortly after the COVID lockdowns began. We now have a few viewers from interstate who watch our service every Sunday. Without our videos, they would struggle to find somewhere to worship in Auslan, their heart-language.’
The church also has a video studio, funded through another grant, that is used for creating Auslan content. During the height of the pandemic, the studio played an important role in the creation of various worship-at-home resources, for both the hearing and Deaf congregations at Magill. The church plans to use the studio extensively in the future to produce more desperately needed Bible studies and resources for the Deaf community.
The introduction of digital technology is just one of the changes that Deaf ministry has seen over the years. The pastoral team has also evolved, as well as the location where the group worships. Pastor Michael says there have been many positives in the ministry’s transformation.
‘Because of these changes the Deaf ministry has probably become less pastor-centric, encouraging all members to participate in the mission of the church,’ he says. ‘These changes have also encouraged greater interaction between hearing and Deaf members, which has been very good for mutual awareness and understanding.’
While the church faces some of the same challenges as many others in the district, Pastor Michael says there is great joy in providing the much-needed ministry.
‘We have a small and ageing congregation, yet we are still very active, and it’s a blessing that through Julian and other young people, we have a future.’
To find out more about the Adelaide Deaf Community Church, visit their website at pilgrimlutheran.com.au/adcc