A language barrier was not going to stop people from celebrating at First Baptist Deaf Church on Saturday.
Communicating Thru Sign, a local nonprofit organization that raises awareness about deaf and partially deaf people, celebrated its anniversary at the church, which is about a block away from the Louisiana School for the Deaf.
“We just want everyone to become proactive about deaf culture,” said Carol Taylor-Eleam, Communicating Thru Sign’s founder and president.
Every element at Saturday’s event was interpreted through sign language.
During songs, someone would stand at the front of the sanctuary and sing with a keyboard playing in the background. Meanwhile, a group of people would stand behind that person and sign the song.
For prayer, one person would stand on the stage and sign the message. Another person would interpret that message by saying it into a microphone.
Most people at the event donned white T-shirts to celebrate Communicating Thru Sign’s anniversary.
Signs adorned the small sanctuary, saying “celebrating the present and looking ahead to the future.”
The Rev. Michael Mack, pastor of First Baptist Deaf Church, delivered a short sermon. His message, interpreted by a hearing congregation member, discussed honoring God by honoring mothers and fathers.
Mack said through an interpreter that he was born deaf. He is originally from Denham Springs but graduated in 1986 from a college for the deaf in Washington, D.C., called Gallaudet University.
Mack later became a deaf pastor in Virginia, but chose to move home to be closer to family.
“God blessed me with good family,” Mack said through the interpreter.
Mack said he could not pick a favorite aspect of Saturday’s festivities.
“I just enjoyed all of it,” he said. “It’s hard to pick my favorite.”
Dianne Byrd, Mack’s interpreter, can hear. But her husband, Cliff Byrd, was born with partial hearing loss.
They have been members of First Baptist Deaf Church since 2005, when they moved to Baton Rouge from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Dianne said she and her husband enjoy working with the church and Communicating Thru Sign because of the awareness it raises about the deaf culture.
“We’re always in need of interpreters,” she said.
The church and Communicating Thru Sign are open to anyone, both hearing and deaf, Taylor-Eleam said.
Taylor-Eleam founded Communicating Thru Sign in July 2010. Its mission is to “bridge the communication gap between deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people,” according to the group’s informational pamphlet.
Taylor-Eleam said she has two cousins who are deaf, so she took sign language classes to learn how to communicate with them.
Taylor-Eleam said she was introduced to the church by someone in one of those classes.
She said she is still learning sign language and brings in members of First Baptist Deaf Church to Communicating Thru Sign’s meetings to teach them how to sign.
“This is where I’m starting to really learn sign language,” Taylor-Eleam said.