Calvary Church reaches Deaf community for Christ

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CLEARWATER—For Ron Cooney, a specific church ministry originally brought his family through the doors of Calvary Church when he was 14 years old. As a child of a deaf adult (CODA), Cooney and his family were able to find a home at the Central Florida church. Now, years later, Cooney still calls Calvary Church home—as its executive pastor.

“God used Calvary’s Deaf Ministry to bring my entire family to faith in Christ,” said Cooney. “We are forever grateful for the kingdom work that has been done in the Deaf Ministry at Calvary through the years. They are an extension of my family.”

Most of the approximately 70 million Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people around the world have never seen Jesus’s name signed in their language. With a desire to reach this mostly unreached and unengaged mission field, Calvary Church has sought to serve some of the least evangelized people on earth—the Deaf community.

‘Our vision for the Deaf Ministry at Calvary is to build relationships to bring the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to dynamic life in Christ locally in order to develop and deploy them to do the same in their communities and around the world.’

“With an understanding that globally, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are mostly unreached and unengaged, our vision for the Deaf Ministry at Calvary is to build relationships to bring the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to dynamic life in Christ locally in order to develop and deploy them to do the same in their communities and around the world,” he said.

Calvary’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministry has existed for almost 50 years and continues to serve the Deaf in its community.

“The ministry is a huge part of our DNA as a church,” Cooney said. “I certainly don’t know our church without a Deaf Ministry, and I am certain that if it wasn’t for the Deaf Ministry, I would not be at Calvary and may not have even been exposed to the saving power of the gospel.”

Through intentional effort, countless interpreters and Christlike volunteers—the church’s Deaf Ministry has thrived, giving “Deaf individuals every opportunity a hearing person has in the life of the church,” said Cooney.

‘Our vision for the Deaf Ministry at Calvary is to build relationships to bring the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to dynamic life in Christ locally in order to develop and deploy them to do the same in their communities and around the world.’

Ron Cooney Executive Pastor, Calvary Church, Clearwater

“From responding to the gospel in an interpreted service on a Sunday morning, membership classes, and Bible studies, to serving on one of our serve teams or as a deacon … this is only possible because of the dedicated and unselfish care of our interpreters,” he shared. “These interpreters embody the call of Romans 12:1-2 and have my deepest respect.”

Cooney added, “While Calvary has had an ongoing ministry to families with special needs, we decided to prioritize this further by hiring a staff member to focus on this particular area. This is a new position and a ministry that we hope grows into a vibrant one for families in our community who have various special needs.”

Not only are the weekly worship services interpreted for the Deaf, but the church also offers Deaf Bible studies, a “Hands of Praise” choir, camps and many social activities throughout the year.

From Christmas musicals and Vacation Bible School for the Deaf to mission trips—Calvary’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministry continues to look for “creative outlets in order to build relationships with the Deaf community in the Tampa Bay area,” said Cooney. The church has broadened its reach to the Deaf community by hosting the Southern Baptist Conference for the Deaf, where more than 200 people gathered on the church campus for the recent annual meeting. The church also will be hosting the Florida Baptist Conference for the Deaf in 2024, with hopes of encouraging other churches and ministries to the Deaf to keep pursuing Jesus and the call of discipleship.

The call to pursue Jesus and actively disciple a generation is exactly what Calvary Church desires to do for years to come.

God has used the Deaf Ministry at Calvary to reach families and change lives,” he said. “We know that there are many ways to minister to the Deaf, and we constantly seek new ways of engaging the lost community around us, including those who are Deaf.”

Cooney described how the church’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministry serves the entire body of Christ.

“When the church’s differences are on display, I believe with all of my heart that the whole is better served,” Cooney said. “This comes with its own unique challenges. But if you have godly people who believe the best about each other and who trust one another, you can accomplish the unimaginable. I like to think that we have those people in place at Calvary. As we embrace some of the differences between us–specifically, how we communicate–it has allowed us to see the kingdom difference we are making.”

The executive pastor who became a Christian through Calvary Church’s Deaf Ministry so many years ago looks forward to the day when all believers together will praise God’s name.

“One day, when we are all gathered around the throne of grace, one of the ‘tongues’ that will be used to worship our great God and King will be those doing it in American Sign Language,” he said. “As for me, I guess I will use my native language as well as my hands to proclaim, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.’”

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