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Church history

A photo of Eric Ashton performing a church service

The church’s origins date back to 1872 when a group of businessmen – which included the then Lord Mayor – set up an organisation which they called ‘The Birmingham Town Mission.’  The aim of the Mission was to help and support those who were considered to be needy and on the margins of society. One area of work deemed important by the Mission was that of engaging with the Deaf community. Once formalised, they appointed Mr. W. A. Griffiths (a Deaf man) who was to become the first ‘missionary’ to the Deaf community.

The Deaf Church has been an integral part, of what we now know as BID Services, since that date. The church had  ‘centre’ for the next 60 years, until 1932, when an old warehouse and stables was purchased in Granville Street, in Birmingham City Centre. For the first time, a room was set aside and dedicated for deaf people to worship. Since then, the Deaf Church has met each week, with no break in services – apart from an annual four-week break at Christmas.

For most of the Centre’s history, the Director of Services to the deaf community and the Chaplain (the Missioner) were one and the same person. It was not until Eric Ashton’s retirement in 1980, when Robin Caley was appointed as the centre’s new director that a separate person was appointed as Chaplain for the church. The Reverend Charles Chittendon took up the new post, remaining with the organisation until 1985.

On retirement, Charles spent some time in Palayamkottai, situated in the Tirunelveli region of South India, where he established The Charles Chittendon Centre for Deaf people, a centre that the Birmingham Church continues to support. The deaf church also gives direct support to an organisation called Love Russia, an initiative that works mainly with children and young people with learning difficulties, who have been abandoned to some of the most basic and dire institutions in Russia. And so the church, limited though they are, continues its long history of giving to some of the most needy people in our world.

On the completion of the new Deaf Cultural Centre in 2007, the church has been generously accommodated in a ‘multi-faith’ room. While this has to be rather plain, the church has recently completed its arrangements for adapting their services on Wednesdays, visually, for deaf people to be engaged in worship.