On Saturday, a large cross-section of locals sat down for tea at Northwest Philadelphia’s New Covenant Church for an all-ages gathering enabling deaf and hearing community members to share faith and friendship.
Rosalind McKelvey, leader of the Germantown Deaf Ministries Fellowship, hosted the group’s 13th annual women’s tea, held at the former site of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Mt. Airy.
The event was built around the Biblical verse of Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
In her introductory remarks, McKelvey said the event offered a chance to “let everyone know that you are loved.”
She urged attendees in the sunny Chandelier Room to savor hand-made snacks, including homemade petit-fours traditionally served at the event, and fragrant cups of tea the way women of the past would have “made and cherished and shared [their treats] with special people.”
Applause for speakers’ remarks took two forms: hearing attendees gave traditional hand-claps, while deaf guests fluttered their raised hands.
The speakers’ messages
Speaker Carla Gaskin described a non-judgmental approach to different phases of approaching God, from sitting quietly at a service to “worshipping him with everything you got.”
Poet Juanita Williams shared her original poem, “Rest…A Need Barely Met,” which was written under the pen name Pebbles Nation.
“Trying to take a ten minute nap or eating right no longer exist,” she read, “for we are more concerned with finishing our to do list.”
To continue the theme of carving out relaxation time in busy lives, attendees practiced the passage from Matthew in several languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish, Italian, Chinese, French, Vietnamese, German and Arabic.
Through ASL translator Arianna Neromiliotis, attendee Robyn Miller told NewsWorks that events bringing deaf and hearing people together are not uncommon in our region.
Miller, deaf since birth, has been a case manager with the Glenside-based PAHrtners Deaf Services for the past four years. She called this her “second job” after being a mom to “three phenomenal kids” ranging in age from 10 to 22 years old.
Neromiliotis, whose hands unconsciously shape ASL phrases whenever she speaks, was kept busy at the event — her seventh stint with the annual Women’s Tea — along with a few other translators who worked to ensure deaf attendees could follow the presentations.
“She gets my character,” McKelvey said of Neromiliotis’s translating style.
A translator’s path
Neromiliotis studied as a sign language interpreter at the Community College of Philadelphia and is currently employed by the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
She said she first became interested in ASL after learning to communicate with her childhood babysitter, who was deaf. Years later, when she took an ASL elective in college on a whim, “it all came flooding back.”
With a natural affinity for signing, she pursued a career as an interpreter, explaining they have an important role, even when people like McKelvey, who hears but also knows sign language, are speaking.
“Neither message is clear,” Neromiliotis said of trying to communicate in speech and sign language simultaneously.
An afternoon highlight
Blogger and Germantown Deaf Ministries Fellowship member Nada Ghaddas took the podium with help from Miller and Neromiliotis.
Since Ghaddas’s own ability to move is limited, Miller interpreted her signing for Neromiliotis, who voiced Ghaddas’ words for the crowd.
Ghaddas told attendees that she has cerebral palsy, is deaf, Egyptian and that she loves God and scripture.
Slowly, through her two translators, a smiling Ghaddas shared her favorite line of scripture: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is his name in all the earth.”