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Hearing loops mean worshippers can hear service

The Congregational Church on Mercer Island (UCC) recently installed hearing loops in its sanctuary that have made a difference for hearing impaired members and visitors.

Dale Rominger and Charles Nishida cut grooves in floor for channels for wire.  Photo courtesy of Congregational Church of Mercer Island

“Because of the architecture of our building, we had to cut slots into the floor for the wires,” said Roberta Rominger, pastor.

Now some members will hear the entire service for the first time ever, Roberta said. 

“I’ve got a prayer of thanksgiving,” Diane said on Easter morning. “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be able to hear every word of the sermon. It’s been years!”

The new hearing loop at the Congregational Church on Mercer Island went live on Palm Sunday.

It enables direct transmission from the church sound system to people’s hearing aids and cochlear implants. No background noise and no headphones.

Hearing had been a problem since the new pastor arrived three years ago.

“My voice is in a low register,” said Roberta. “Turning up the volume on the microphones helped a little, but it was still a frequency issue. We were about to install extra speakers at the rear of the sanctuary.

“Now we know that was the worst thing we could have done,” she said.

Roberta was surprised that churches in the United States don’t all have hearing loops installed. In the United Kingdom, where she served previously, all the churches had them.

Members in Mercer Island were skeptical. With all the wireless solutions available, why install a loop?

It took some research to convince them that the loop system was the best technology available, she said.

The problem was that the normal installation, around the perimeter of the room at an overhead height, was not possible. The Mercer Island sanctuary has a glass wall. No one wanted to spoil it with a casing for hearing wires.

Spencer Norby of Hearing Loop Northwest came up with a solution.  He would embed the wires in the sanctuary floor.

“Evidently that’s the first time on the West Coast that this sort of installation has been attempted. The hearing loop installer designed new tools just for this job,” Roberta said.

He created special tools, a double-bladed power saw and guiding channel, so that the cuts around the edges of the floor would be straight and precisely the right depth.

Church members offered labor for the incision and clearing the grooves of sawdust. They helped lay the wire. Then they spent a day on their knees carefully pressing putty into the cracks to seal the wire in.

“The result is an outstanding system, one of the best sets of readings the installer has achieved after more than 130 installations around the region,” Roberta said.

The complications now are personal.

Most hearing aids and implants have the necessary telecoil, or T-coil, but it isn’t always activated. Each person has to figure out how to switch their device to the T position.

Some will have to make trips to their audiologists, Roberta said, but once they know how to tune in, they are delighted with the results.

“Since we’ve installed our loop, I’ve started seeing them everywhere,” she said.

“There was one in the community hall where we held our ecumenical Good Friday service last week. There is even one at the information desk at the public library,” she said.  “It’s a simple technology but a real life-changer, enabling people to hear.”

For information, call 206-232-7800 or 360-932-4562 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church News © April-May 2018


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