A short History
The Episcopal Church began ministry among Deaf people more than 150 years ago – when the Rev Thomas Gallaudet began services in sign language in New York City in 1852. St. Ann’s church for the Deaf, still very active, is considered the “mother church” of all congregations of Deaf people in the United States The Rev. Dr. Gallaudet was personally responsible for organizing many more Episcopal deaf congregations throughout the country. It is thought that St. Ann’s was the first organized church of Deaf people in any denomination.
The Episcopal Church also claims the honor of being first to ordain a Deaf person. The Rev. Henry Winter Syle was ordained in 1876 beginning a long tradition of clergy who are Deaf in the Episcopal church.
Henry Winter Syle and Thomas Gallaudet share a feast day (August 27th) set aside in their honor.
In order to organize and promote the Episcopal Church’s ministry among Deaf people, the Conference of Church Workers Among the Deaf was founded in 1881. In the beginning, only clergy were normally members of this organization. In 1961, the Conference was reorganized to make specific provision for lay delegates and lay members.. And in 1970 the organization’s name was officially changed to the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf.
Today the ECD represents many ministries with the Deaf in the Episcopal Church through out the United States. This includes styles of ministry that vary from Deaf congregations worshipping in American Sign Language with interpreters for Hearing members and visitors to Hearing congregations with interpreters for Deaf members of those congregations.
The challenges facing the modern day church are in attracting new deaf laity and clergy from a largely unchurched Deaf population.