The deaf ministry of Raleigh Court Presbyterian began in 1990 when Patrick and Leslie Adams with their two young children, who are deaf, joined the church. Their daughter, Jessica, and son, Shane, were both born with severe-profound hearing losses and rely on sign language as their primary mode of communication. Being the church of the open door, it was decided that these children deserved equal access to all the services and programs to which all other RCPC children had access. Leslie, the children’s mother, and Ellen Austin began interpreting Sunday School, choir practice, 11:00 worship, church retreats, and as the children grew, youth group as well. In the spring of 2001, Ellen Austin offered a sign language class for those who wanted to be able to communicate with Jessica and Shane. Twenty-five RCPC congregants attended this six-week class. By the time the children graduated from high school and moved to different localities, another man who was hard of hearing, Bill Combs, had begun coming to the services so interpreting of the 11:00 am worship service continued. Since the interpreted service was provided each Sunday and the interpreter stood near the minister, providing access to the interpreted service for all congregants, the service was advertised in the local newspaper. A few people with hearing loss came to the service from time to time, but when Mr. Combs became ill and no longer attended, the interpreted services were discontinued for several years.
In 2010, however, as the 11:00 worship service began, Jenny McKenzie, a woman who was deaf with low vision walked into RCPC and in a church our size “coincidentally” sat directly behind Ellen Austin asking the man beside her if there was an interpreter available. From that day on, the deaf ministry at RCPC resumed with interpreted 11:00 am worship services each Sunday. Ellen Austin served as the primary interpreter with Leslie Adams or Anne Travers interpreting once a month until the summer of 2018, when Ellen Austin suffered an injury that led to shoulder surgery. Anne Travers was serving as an elder at the time and went before Session and the Endowment Committee requesting their approval for hiring substitute interpreters two times each month so that Ellen and Anne could worship with their families three Sundays each month. In 2014, Eric Clifton, a young man who is hard of hearing, began coming to Raleigh Court Presbyterian. He was a former student of Ellen Austin’s and wanted an interpreted service so that sign language could supplement what he missed through hearing. Since Jenny and Eric are members of our church family, the endowment board felt it important that we provide the support services they need to fully participate in the life of our church and granted funding for the request. Anne and Ellen still offer their services without pay as part of their annual church giving. Since Jenny is unable to drive, another service offered through this ministry is transportation to and from church by a faithful church member, Andy Corbin. Church members have offered other support services for Jenny and Eric as well. Jenny voiced that she did not just want to be a pew warmer so she currently serves as a greeter every Sunday morning shaking hands with all who come to worship. Eric also helps greet at the front door.