PARSONS — Peggy Yates began the Silent Workers Sunday School Class for deaf people at First Baptist Church here when she was just 17 years old. She still teaches it 56 years later.
Several years after beginning the class, she also began working at First, Parsons, as secretary. She just retired on Dec. 31, 2013, after serving 51 years.
“I stayed longer than I thought I ever would.
“I thought God wanted me to be a missionary. I saw that this was God’s plan for me,” said Yates.
Yates began attending First Baptist as a 5-year-old child with her twin sister Pat. Their deaf parents were wonderful Christian people who drove them to church and dropped them off because they couldn’t communicate with anyone who didn’t know sign language, she explained.
Yet the people at the church visited the family at their home to try to get to know her parents, recalled Yates. “They took us under their wing. They were wonderful to us.”
After she started the Sunday School Class and interpreting the worship service, her parents quickly joined as well as others in the area and even in West Tennessee who were deaf. She was encouraged to do this by the pastor at that time.
Other deaf people lived in Parsons because like her parents they worked at a Parsons garment factory. Her parents were graduates of the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville, noted Yates.
Her family was somewhat unusual but God used it, said Yates. She and Pat communicated at home mostly with sign language but learned to speak as they talked to each other and were assisted by their grandparents. The whole family lived together for a while during the Depression.
Yates said one of the highlights of her ministry to the deaf was helping lead a deaf woman to become a Christian. The woman at the time was living in a nursing home. She became well-known in the area because she had lived with her father on a boat on the Tennessee River where they made their living fishing. Yates also enjoyed interpreting a wedding ceremony for a deaf bride.
Attending the Silent Workers Class was very important to many of its members, said Yates. One member rode the church bus for years to participate.
Yates also has transported several class members to church and back home so they could attend.
“It was just a part of Sunday morning.”
A highlight of her office work for First was serving the ministers and church members and helping people through the church’s benevolence ministry.
She felt the Lord wanted her to be “interacting with people.”
In serving the ministers, Yates said it was a privilege to walk with them through their “pain, heartaches, and triumphs.” She worked with seven pastors during her tenure.
Over the years the number of deaf people in the worship services has declined so about 10 years ago Yates stopped interpreting them. The class, which at one time had about 12 members, now has one but he’s a dedicated member, she reported.
She retired from her office role to spend more time with her husband, Buddy, who always has been supportive “of the time I spent with the deaf.”
She also will enjoy being with her six grandchildren and one great grandchild. Her son Timothy is a deacon at First, Bolivar; daughter-in-law Mary is children’s coordinator there; and her daughter Melony and son-in-law Greg Waits are members of First, Parsons, where Greg is a deacon.
Yates said she will never forget being honored by the congregation on Feb. 16 on her retirement as secretary.
“The church has been so very good to me. … I had such a wonderful day.
“God is awesome. God is good.”