Church of Sweden focuses on young sign language users

Church of Sweden focuses on young signers

Several of the Church of Sweden’s dioceses are now focusing their efforts on including young sign language users in the church’s activities. Pictured here: deaf priest Caroline Edlund, in Strängnäs Cathedral. (Photo: Magnus Aronson/IKON)

Posted 22 June 2016

The Church of Sweden is investing SEK 2 million in establishing a sign language community for young people in the Church. The aim is to provide young ‘signers’ with meeting places on their terms, both within the parish and via a network throughout the entire Church of SwedenPosted 22 June 2016.

Everyone is equally welcome in the Church of Sweden, but there is a high risk of people feeling that the Church is not connecting with them. We need to be proactive about approaching young people who use sign language, because we’ve noticed that they don’t have a relationship with the Church,” says Sigurdur Hafthorsson, Officer for Multilingual Issues at the Church of Sweden’s national level.

The Central Board of the Church of Sweden has decided to grant SEK 2 million to a three-year project aimed at including young deaf people in the Church of Sweden’s activities. The money comes from Dela tro – dela liv (‘Share Faith – Share Life’), a larger initiative within the Church of Sweden that is about providing meeting places for discussion and learning about the Christian faith.

The three-year project, ‘Young signers in the church’, involves additional personnel resources, prioritising and co-ordination of the work of the various dioceses in the Church of Sweden. Two individuals will be appointed to take charge of this. Over the three-year period, structures will be established that will remain in place after the project has finished.

Project manager Juni Sowell, herself a young deaf person, spent 2015 finding out about the needs of young signers. What do they think about the Church? How can the Church of Sweden be made relevant to them? Are they interested in the Church?

Their responses clearly show that they don’t feel attracted to the Church’s activities and that they have certain preconceptions about the Church. We want to tackle those preconceptions and show a different side. It’s partly about lack of resources for the target group,” said Ms Sowell.

She added: “The Church of Sweden needs to open up more to encourage children and young people who use sign language. At the moment there are very few opportunities for them to grow in their faith in the language of their heart!”

Ms Sowell hopes the project will result in regular camps or trips and activities in sign language for children and young people at a local level, and that it will be possible to reach out to young signers by way of targeted communication initiatives.

The target group for the project is young people aged 13–30 years who are deaf, hard of hearing or who use Swedish sign language for some other reason as their main mode of communication, and are therefore unable to participate fully in any of the Church of Sweden’s activities besides those conducted in Swedish sign language.

Härnösand Cathedral parish and the Dioceses of Strängnäs, Gothenburg, Skara and Stockholm will be working together on the project. A reference group of young people appointed by the Diocese will also be involved in the project. [Church of Sweden news]