At odds with God—and experiencing Him nevertheless!
A deaf Priest? Is that even possible? Of course it is! Frank Jensen (50) from Wiesbaden, Germany recounts his experiences of life and faith. Today these have led him to the point where he is officially a member of not one, but three, congregations at the same time.
When Frank came into this world, his parents—Marianne and Manfred Jensen (today a retired District Elder)—did not realise that their happy little child had been deaf since birth. It was only when Frank’s mother began to observe his cousin, who was four months younger, that she had the nagging feeling that something was not right. When their son was about a year old, his parents brought him to the doctors for a medical examination.
Some years later, it was discovered that Marianne Jensen had had a rubella infection during her pregnancy. In such cases, doctors often suggest that the parents terminate the pregnancy. In hindsight, Marianne and Manfred Jensen are glad that this case of rubella was only discovered much later on. Even Frank is visibly moved: “I am grateful to the dear God that He even made it possible for me to begin living in the first place.”
Frank grew up under the watchful protection of his family. He communicated with his parents—and later also with his sister, Marlies—with the aid of simple Sign language. He really only became truly aware of his deafness on his first day at the school for the deaf. “I saw the other children signing. The teachers spoke. I did not understand any of them.” In school, Frank learned German Sign language. This also gave him the self-confidence to profess: “I am deaf”—which ultimately led to his desire to unite the world of the hearing with the world of the deaf.
The first “proper” divine service
The New Apostolic faith had always been a high priority for the Jensen family. When Frank was a child, this at first meant coming along and simply “enduring”, because at that time no one had any experience with the deaf in the congregation. “I sat beside my mother, looked at the choir and the room, and was often bored. But I was still happy to come along because I always felt comfortable in the house of God. I couldn’t explain it. After all, I did not understand what was being said. I probably felt it with my heart,” relates Priest Jensen.
Frank Jensen experienced his first “proper” divine service in Dortmund. At the time, he was already twelve years old. Shortly before that, his father had learned that District Elder Günther Lierse was conducting divine services for the hard of hearing in Dortmund (North Rhine-Westphalia). Frank’s mother took him along to one such service. “A divine service with Sign language! I was so excited!” says Frank, still overjoyed today. After the service, his mother related that Frank’s eyes were red from the strain of paying such rapt attention. He wanted to be sure not to miss a single gesture. After that, his mother drove him to Dortmund for services on a regular basis.
Delighted over the effect of these divine services upon their son, his parents spoke to their District Apostle about the situation. On 8 August 1982, the first divine service for the hard of hearing took place in Hesse. Starting in 1984, divine services for the hard of hearing were conducted regularly in the District Church of Hesse / Rhineland-Palatinate / Saarland. Since May 1998, the members have been gathering in the congregation of Lich.
Ups and downs in faith
As a child he barely gave any thought to his deafness, recalls Priest Jensen. But the issue occupied him all the more during his youth. “I was at odds with God. Already before my confirmation I asked Him why everyone else was able to hear while I was deaf. I did not receive an answer, but I kept praying that I would experience Him—and ultimately professed my faith in my confirmation vow,” he relates. “I have always hoped that my family and I would be permitted to remain in the house of God. And I am grateful to the dear God that this is still the case today.”
It is of note that Frank Jensen is an active member of three congregations at once: in addition to his home congregation of Wiesbaden and the congregation for the hard of hearing in Hesse, he has also officially been a member of the congregation for the hard of hearing in the District Church of Southern Germany.
Active in ministry
He also serves as a minister in all three congregations—even though he used to be sure that, as a deaf person, he would never be ordained to ministry. Frank Jensen was 20 years old when he was asked whether he would be willing to serve as a Sub-deacon. “This came very unexpectedly, but naturally I wanted to help along and offer my support.”
Eleven years later, Frank Jensen was ordained to the Deacon ministry. “This genuinely surprised me, because I had had no meeting about it with anyone ahead of time.” And how did he react when he learned that he was to receive the Priest ministry? “I thought I must have misunderstood!”
In August he was ordained a Priest. “Now certain things have changed. As a Priest, I am not only called upon to serve along in divine services for the hard of hearing, but also in other services. I dispense Holy Communion, and I also provide pastoral care to an elderly couple in my home congregation. This retired Priest knows Sign language too, and used to translate for me over many years,” relates Priest Jensen. “I still have much to learn,” he says, while at the same time expressing deep gratitude to the rectors of the two congregations for the loving instruction they provide him.
And what does this new task mean for him? “I experience God in the exercise of my ministry and in fellowship with my brothers and sisters. God has called me. I am grateful to Him for His help, because it is only with Him that it is possible to work as a minister in the cause of our Lord.”