A New York church comes up with a creative solution in order to include all members of its congregation.
Once isolated because of her hearing loss, Ellie Kinne can participate in her Bible study again thanks to a creative solution.
Deafness can be a very debilitating disability,” says Ellie Kinne, who began experiencing rapid hearing loss just a few years ago. “Unlike many handicaps, deafness is not visible so people don’t realize you can’t hear them speak.”
Fortunately for Kinne, she wasn’t as invisible as she thought.
Now diagnosed as legally deaf, Kinne was initially devastated by her hearing loss. She retreated from friends and family because, she says, “It was just easier to not be around people. The voices I longed to hear were no longer audible.”
Similarly, Kinne mourned her sudden inability to participate fully in the life of her church, Reformed Church of Syracuse (RCS), in New York, where she has worshiped her entire life and currently serves as an elder. Within the sanctuary, which is equipped with a hearing loop, Kinne could hear anything amplified by the church’s sound system through her hearing aid’s telecoil setting. But outside of the sanctuary’s hearing loop, communication was tough. Once an active participant in many church activities, Kinne felt she had few options.
“I had dropped out of Sunday school, which was held in our church parlor, because of the struggle to hear the discussion,” she says. “I so missed the learning and fellowship of my class.”
Thankfully, Kinne had several people willing to advocate for her. Unbeknownst to Kinne, her Sunday school teacher approached RCS’s brand-new pastor, Ryan Cogswell, to explain the situation and ask if he had any solutions. Cogswell was aware of Kinne’s hearing loss, but not as aware of how it affected other areas of church participation.
“The intercession … put it on my heart that we had to figure out a way for Ellie to get back into Sunday school,” says Cogswell.
In thinking and praying about the situation, Cogswell was drawn to the biblical story of the paralyzed man who could not get near to Jesus until his friends cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man into the building.
“I realized that disciples are responsible for helping one another get close to Christ,” says Cogswell. “I knew that our church community was full of loyal and loving people who would gladly do the equivalent of lowering Ellie through the roof to see Jesus. We felt that the church cannot allow any obstacle to prevent someone from encountering the Word of God.”
Hoping to avoid a literal hole in the church roof but not knowing how to proceed, Cogswell contacted Terry DeYoung, the RCA’s coordinator for Disability Concerns, whom he had met at a connection event that DeYoung led on disability awareness. DeYoung had several suggestions, but one idea stood out. He proposed holding Kinne’s Sunday school class in the sanctuary around the communion table, with an omnidirectional microphone in the middle to pick up voices. With the mic connected to the sanctuary’s hearing loop, Kinne would be able to hear conversation through her hearing aid’s telecoil setting.
“It was a pretty elegant solution, actually—it just took someone with sensitivity to disabilities to see it,” says Cogswell. “The members of Ellie’s class were … happily willing to move locations. The changes were not difficult at all. Our roof remained intact.
“Where people are seeking Christ, there is always a way to find him, and sometimes—as in our case—it is easier than you would think.”
And the location change has made all the difference in the world for Kinne.
“I am able to hear and participate in our learning experience again—it is wonderful!” she says. “I am so happy to be back learning God’s Word with the people I truly love. To feel the support I get from my church family is overwhelming and empowering.”
The experience of having others advocate for her during a time of struggle has also inspired Kinne to pay it forward. Sensing God’s call, she has now become her church’s RCA disability advocate, working to amplify the voices of those who experience disabilities and to find solutions that allow them to more fully participate in church life.
“It is a daily learning process of adaptability—for myself as well as others,” says Kinne of this work. “My hope is to help those with disabilities … to move ahead and adapt their surroundings so that they can continue to live more fully.
“With God’s help and the encouragement of Pastor Ryan and my church family, I can continue to do God’s work.”
Find resources for making your congregation more hospitable to people with disabilities at www.rca.org/disability.
Watch Kinne’s story on video on the RCA Today app, available on the App Store or Google Play.
Praise God for sensitivity and quick thinking, which allowed Kinne to participate more fully in church life once again.