Supporting deaf couples and guests with a BSL interpreter

British Sign Language is Britain’s fourth indigenous language, used by Deaf and hearing members of the Deaf community.

Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) often go to their local Chaplain, or specialist minister for Deaf people to conduct their marriage in BSL. However, sometimes they choose to be married in their parish church, or a church where they have strong connections and may need to use an interpreter for the ceremony.

The couple may have Deaf friends who wish to attend and they may also need to see an interpreter to enable them to properly witness the marriage.

There is no legal requirement to use a Sign Language interpreter at a wedding where the bride and/or groom is Deaf, but obviously it is important that the couple understand the minister and that the minister understands the responses of the couple. It is very important to talk to the couple about what they need to feel confident at their marriage.

If an interpreter is used then consideration needs to be given to the positioning of the interpreter to enable people to see and understand. Sometimes, two interpreters may be needed if Bride/Groom and congregation members are Deaf.

Sign Language interpreters are highly trained professionals who will need to be paid for their services just like anyone else taking a professional role in the wedding. If the Bride and/or Groom are Deaf and request an interpreter for their wedding, they should not be expected to pay for the interpreter. If the Bride and/or Groom are not Deaf but have chosen to invite Deaf friends who require and interpreter, then it could be reasonable to ask for a contribution towards the cost of an interpreter.

Your diocese may have a policy for the funding of Sign Language interpreters at Occasional Offices, but for general guidelines about the provision of BSL interpreters, follow this link.

You can find briefing papers to help you to use an interpreter at a wedding service by following this link.

Further advice may be obtained from Rev Canon Gill Behenna, the Church of England National Deaf Ministry Adviser:


Frequently asked questions

How much will it cost?
This is difficult to answer because most interpreters are free-lance workers and so their fees vary. In 2011 the national average fee charged was £30 an hour but you should remember that most interpreters will have a minimum call-out fee that they will charge that equates to two or three hours

Can’t some interpreters provide this for free for the Church?
Some interpreters already work for free in their local churches, Sunday by Sunday, interpreting the services. Some will reduce their fees for Church work and some will occasionally work without a fee, if the Deaf person who has died, or the Deaf people who are getting married, are known to them personally. However, it should be remembered that free-lance interpreters are highly trained interpreters who need to earn a living. They should be treated fairly. Even volunteers should have their travelling expenses met.

Our service is entirely on the screen/written in a service sheet/book so why can’t the Deaf person simply read the text?
Having written/projected material is really helpful for Deaf people. However, many people do not use English as their first or preferred language and will not be able to engage in worship simply through the written word. A BSL/English interpreter gives access to tone of voice, emotional content and, of course, all the parts of a service that are not written down.

We have someone in our congregation who has been studying sign language – why can’t they do it?
They may be able to – but you need to make sure that they have learnt BSL to at least level 3 (A level equivalent) and also had some interpreter training. Weddings and funerals use very complex language and interpreters are trained to deal with such language. It would be good if the sign language user could come to the service to be around for Deaf people who may attend – even if they are not actually interpreting.
In most instances, trained interpreters, registered with the National Register of Communication Professionals with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) should be used.

We have a local Chaplain for the Deaf. Can they do it?
As above, they may be able to do it. However, some of the Chaplains do not have the required skill level and some of the Chaplains are Deaf themselves so may not be able to interpret. You should ask for their advice because even if they are not able to interpret, they will be able to put you in touch with an interpreter.

A Deaf person wants to give a tribute/do a Bible reading in the service. How would that work?
Easily, the interpreters work between two languages: English and BSL, so if something is presented in BSL, it can be interpreted into spoken English for the benefit of the members of the congregation who do not sign.

Where can I find an interpreter?
The Association of Sign Language Interpreters
Both these organisations have databases that are searchable by regions or postcodes.
Signs of God has a searchable database of Christian interpreters that are familiar with Church services. They are also happy to send interpreting requests to their members.