Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inner Voice…

Many of you remember Tom Benninga; a kind, gruff, dear member of our church when I first arrived. It’s been a few years since he’s passed from our care into God’s eternal peace, but I still find myself thinking about Tom every now and then. It happens each December as we use the Advent Wreath he made for us. It wasn’t expected by anyone, simply arrived one day. “Thought you’d like it,” he said. Yup.

I also remember Tom sometimes during our pastoral prayers, given something he used to tell me. In his characteristic straightforward fashion, Tom said, “Shane, something preachers just don’t understand is that God doesn’t think they’re more holy if they lower their voices during prayer.” That made me laugh. “Are you trying to say something to me Tom,” I’d ask. “Absolutely. When you pray, your voice gets softer. I can’t hear it. Speak up!”

Thankfully, this advice came my way less often over the years. I hope I took his criticism well, but do let me know when I’m not speaking fully. Unfortunately, when Tom’s health began declining, he couldn’t make it on Sundays anymore. Still, I’d stop by his home or we’d chat on the phone, and how well people heard in worship was never far from his mind. In fact, one of the last conversations we had, while he lay in a North Memorial hospital bed, was about hearing assistance tools he’d been researching. Electronic magazines lay on the sheets and floor. He cared deeply about whether folk with hearing challenges could fully participate in worship. And when they struggled, he believed, it was our church’s responsibility to try and help.

I think that’s right- Christian hospitality requires consideration for those needing help. So over the years, Al and I kept looking into various options for assisting members and guests suffering hearing decline or trouble.
But nothing seemed doable. Well, until last December. That’s when I learned of a system that channels sound from our sound system directly into the hearing aids of people in the sanctuary. It’s called a “Hearing Loop System,” and it’s been so effective for congregations that our denomination voted at our last General Assembly to encourage churches to explore the option. In fact, our region developed a grant program for Upper Midwest churches to receive financial assistance if they wanted to install one in their facilities. Our Regional Minister encouraged me to apply.

Given such high recommendations, I talked with the Board and several of you about exploring that option. It sounded intriguing to many, but being so new, we felt we’d need to try it out before investing. Graciously, someone donated money allowing us to do exactly that, which involves inviting a couple who install Hearing Loops in churches as a full-time ministry to set-up a temporary system in our sanctuary for us to demo during worship one Sunday. That way, folk can experience what it will sound like to hear directly what’s said into our microphones, rather than require sound to filter through the air and background noise into their hearing aids, which often doesn’t work. Also, they’ll bring separate devices (with headphones) for folk to use who have hearing trouble but either no hearing aids or aids that don’t work with Hearing Loop systems (it requires a telecoil or t-coil setting that is turned on; call your doctor or hearing aid company if you don’t know, but apparently most new hearing aids use this technology).

And the Sunday for this demo is this Sunday, January 12. So if you’ve had trouble hearing me or whomever during worship or use hearing aids, please make a special point to be in worship this week. Other churches have described people crying when they’ve used this system, for being able to hear finally for the first time in years. But whether it works for us at a cost we can afford will depend on the feedback we receive. And if this isn’t it, we’ll look elsewhere. Tom’s voice remains a good one to heed. If we can help people worship God better, we should. What else is more important to church?

Grace and Peace,
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