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Deaf minister Mary proves the church is always listening on her road to Aberdeen

The Rev Mary Whittaker and her trusty companion, Scott the hearing dog, at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Rev Mary Whittaker and her trusty companion, Scott the hearing dog, at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

She has a black belt in kick-boxing and a hearing dog called Scott.

So it’s hardly surprising the Reverend Mary Whittaker has made a big impression on her congregants, oblivious to being the only Deaf minister in the Church of Scotland.

As she insists, faith and communication go hand in hand and she has just been inducted as minister to the deaf congregation of St John’s Church in Aberdeen and the north region.

Her new parish covers thousands of square miles from Perth to Shetland and Aberdeen to the Outer Hebrides and Skye.

But that is nothing compared to the journey made by Miss Whittaker, who was born in Yorkshire, gained an honours degree in London, and subsequently devoted herself to Christian Studies at Aberdeen University.

Following that long and winding journey, she was ordained into Lossiemouth as the first Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) user in the Church of Scotland.


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And now, in her new role, she has clear ideas about making the church more welcoming to people such as herself.

She said: “Deafness is a complicated issue and you should never assume that a deaf person needs an interpreter – most don’t – or have to to be given a copy of sermon notes.

“Most deaf people lose their hearing and it can be very traumatic for them as the world Church is full of sounds.

“Remember to be sensitive and look out or listen for a clue such as: ‘I can’t hear you without my glasses’, indicating that this person needs to be able to lip-read as part of a strategy to hear better.”

Miss Whittaker obtained a black belt in kickboxing earlier this year, and enjoys walking Scott during her special moments with God and nature.

The latter has been a valuable companion for more than seven years, and has been trained to respond in specific ways to sounds such as doorbells, oven timers, alarm clocks and fire alarms.

She said: “He is also a great ice-breaker when I meet new people and usually people come and talk to the dog before me.

“Scott normally comes with me everywhere – training courses, church services, pastoral visits and hospitals – but not when I’m conducting a funeral.

“I learned from my sister who looked after him during a funeral and told me that the emotional environment was too much for him and he ‘cried’ loudly.”

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