Church Interpreting

I interpreted worship this morning at church.

Every time I hear myself say that, even seeing it here in writing, my brain screams liar! liar! Don’t call yourself an interpreter!!

I’m not an interpreter. I’m not ready. I’m not trained. I’m not prepared.

And yet, I interpreted at church this morning. I was introduced as the worship interpreter. A part of me feels dishonest. What right did I have with my skill level to put myself out there as being capable of interpreting worship?

Except we all have to start somewhere. And worship is a good place to start. First, because I have access to all the words beforehand and can prepare. Secondly, because the modern church has always been a safe-haven for people learning new skills. And thirdly, I know most of the regular Deaf members there and they all know I’m a student and still learning. They were very supportive. They offered to show me the signs I struggled with. They were excited for me.

I was told my signing was beautiful by one sweet friend.

I didn’t gain access to the song list until Thursday night and sadly, I was so very, very jetlagged, I didn’t get a chance to practice until Saturday. But then I ended up working the new job all day Saturday and didn’t actually start practicing until 6 this morning.

So I interpreted five songs this morning with a total of three hours of practice.


Shane recorded it for me. I made a few mistakes. Minor ones. I anticipated the songs instead of giving myself lag-time. I was nervous. I’m not consistently fluid in my signing. I don’t know what to do with my hands during interludes. The lights were blinding. There’s a lot of religious signs I don’t know. They’ve yet to teach those in class.

And then I interpreted the announcements and opening prayers. And that is actual, bonafide interpreting because I had no prior access to those.

I messed it up. I didn’t know the sign for MINISTRY and I could think fast enough for a suitable substitute. I actually struggled to recall several signs like YOUTH and REGISTRATION. Shane didn’t record those parts so I can’t see how bad I really did.

I got the basic message across. For the most part.

The main interpreter (a CODA) was there and he didn’t jump in and save me so I must have done alright. We had agreed that I would give it a try and he’d be there to bail me out if necessary.

A year ago I spent several weeks getting help from a professor to interpret a single song at Easter. I spent weeks and weeks preparing for it. Today, I did just as well (on five songs) without practice, maybe even better, than I did a year ago. A year ago, I was repeating memorized movements. Today, I processed language. A year ago I told Shane that by Easter time next year, I should have enough skills to start interpreting worship.

And here I am.

Another year and I should be able to attempt interpreting the message. Maybe even sooner since I start interpreting classes in the fall.

For now, I’ve got to start learning religious signs because I’m on the schedule to interpret worship twice a month from now on.

I feel accomplished. I feel like a fraud.

I asked a professor a month or so ago “At what point am I considered fluent in sign language?”  His answer was enlightening and not at all reassuring. He basically said, “You are fluent now, depending on the situation you’re in. You’re holding a conversation with me, so you’re fluent. But you couldn’t interpret a biology class right now, so you’re not.”

I look forward to the day when I have the skill and vocabulary reservoir to feel fluent in most situations.

One day.

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