Training institute in Fort Wayne prepares people to be sign language interpreters at worship for those who are deaf

The Rev. Thomas Dunseth, director of the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, helps organize the Church Interpreter Training Institute held each summer at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. (Courtesy photo)
Participants in the Church Interpreter Training Institute practice their sign language interpretation of a worship service during a previous year's training session. This year's training will take place June 25-July 6 at at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. (Courtesy photo)

Providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for worship services involves more than just translating what the clergy leader says. The interpreter becomes part theologian because ASL conveys some information as concepts rather than as the specific words that were spoken.

That’s why the Rev. Thomas Dunseth and the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf (LFD) ministry offer the two-week Church Interpreter Training Institute (CITI) each summer at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.

“This is for anyone who is involved in the deaf ministry or who would like to be involved in the deaf ministry,” Dunseth, the LFD director, said during a recent interview while at the local seminary. LFD is part of the Mill Neck family of organizations providing ministry to children and adults who are deaf.

Registration for this year’s CITI is open now through June 1. The training will take place June 25-July 6 and is available to men, women and youth.

The CITI program was started in 1985 by the late the Rev. George Kraus, who joined the Concordia Theological Seminary faculty in 1982 after being involved in deaf ministry for decades elsewhere within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Dunseth said.

The program started as six weeks of training just for members of the Lutheran faith, Dunseth said. With the increased demands of work and other responsibilities competing for people’s time, the training institute gradually was shortened in duration and also has been opened to people of other Christian faiths.

The number of sign-language interpreters needed for worship services has diminished in recent years, but some congregations still have active ministries for deaf people, Dunseth said.

He said factors contributing to the declining demand include:

• The United States has become less Christian.

• Many deaf children are born to parents with hearing. Some of those parents don’t learn ASL, which makes it more difficult for them to pass on their faith and values to their deaf children.

• Few public schools for the deaf now allow religious education at the school.

“However, there are still deaf people out there who want to worship on Sunday,” Dunseth said.

Those can include U.S. military veterans, about 60 percent of whom come home from service with hearing loss, he said.

Dunseth said people will get the most out of the CITI training if they already have a basic understanding of ASL. They will learn:

• How to provide ASL interpretation for the Bible, sermons and church music.

• How to use facial and body expressions to help interpret the words being spoken.

• Details about the anatomy of the ear and how the hearing process works.

• More about topics in the Bible.

“The concept is interpreter as theologian,” he said. “What comes in your ear has to go through what you learned before it comes out your hands.”

Congregation staff or members who are involved in other aspects of ministry to people who are deaf also would benefit from the training, Dunseth said. Deaf people also can attend to become certified as interpreters.

Dunseth and CITI organizers try to involve deaf people in teaching and leading the sessions.

“They are the best teachers,” he said.


WHAT: The Lutheran Friends of the Deaf ministry will offer its Church Interpreter Training Institute (CITI) for people who want to learn how to interpret worship services for people who are deaf or who are involved in other ministry to the deaf.

WHEN: June 25-July 6

WHERE: Concordia Theological Seminary, 6600 N. Clinton St.

COST: $1,000 for people who commute to the training, and $1,500 for those who stay at the seminary during the training. Registration deadline is June 1. For more information or to register, click here.


• The CITI is open to people of Lutheran and other Christian faiths.

• Organizers recommend people who want to attend CITI ask their congregation to help pay the training fee.