SPRING HILL — When Cindy Braun began her career as a court reporter 25 years ago, she never envisioned it would one day lead to a closed captioning ministry.
A few years after joining Forest Oaks Lutheran Church 13 years ago, it occurred to Braun that what she did for a living could be a service to those in her church who are hearing impaired. She could use her steno keyboard to type what her pastor, the Rev. Glenn Fischer, was saying from the pulpit and have it appear on her laptop screen.
"I'd had the idea if there were any hard-of-hearing people in the congregation, I could maybe sit on one side of the church and let them look at my screen if they wanted to follow along," Braun said.
She approached the then-president of the congregation, Ron Stamer, with the idea. Stamer not only liked it, but, having become hearing impaired himself, suggested that Braun project what she was typing onto a screen at the front of the church for everyone to see.
"I'd gotten hearing aids, and that helped with normal conversations. But it didn't help with TV or going to a worship service," Stamer said. "I tried closed captioning on the TV, and that worked. I never believed we would have closed captioning at our worship service. Cindy brought that to us ... so I am ever grateful."
Initially, Braun sat in the front row of the church and hooked up her computer to a projector that displayed the words on the wall.
"Eventually that evolved into where they have a whole projector screen for the church," Braun said. "Now I sit up in the loft and use the same machine I use in court and project big white letters onto a black screen."
Braun found the elderly congregation to be very welcoming of the ministry. Even those not hard of hearing told her they appreciated having the projected words available to read in the event they missed something the pastor said.
"As far as we know, Forest Oaks Lutheran is the only church in Hernando County that offers closed captioning," Braun said.
Judy Ward is the current congregation president. Closed captioning is a way for the healing impaired to stay involved in the services, she said.
"I have gradually lost hearing, and last year got hearing aids," Ward wrote in an email. "Prior to that and even now, I still rely on the closed captioning. ... There are times when the pastor lowers his voice for emphasis or I just plain don't hear what he or others have said, so I glance at the screen."
Church members who are traveling appreciate having the pastor's sermons, along with Braun's closed captioning, posted on YouTube, Ward said.
It's part of the church's mission to reach out to the elderly.
"Our mission statement is 'Drawing People to Christ,' and we think that offering closed captioning to the hearing-impaired members of our community provides them with the opportunity to hear the Word of God," Ward said. "By being able to more fully participate in the service and in Bible class, they will not just be drawn to our church; they will be drawn to Christ."
Braun likes to tell people she is "spreading the Word so all can 'hear' it" and quotes Romans 10:17 from the Bible — "so faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
It's all been a "God thing," Braun said, and something she would like to expand to other churches. A group she belongs to, Church Scribes, is making some attempts in the direction of offering closed captioning, for a fee, that would be provided remotely via the Internet.
"We'd be working more for the Lord," she said. "We'd love to do it."