I wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday, asking him if he knew of the plight of the deaf community in Lincoln diocese. I wrote again this morning asking him to instigate enquiries. Last time I wrote, some months ago, I was referred to Rev Gill Behenna, the C of E national adviser on the deaf community’s spiritual and pastoral needs. But Gill’s job description confines her to the role of advisor, and she’s already done her best by advising the Bishop of Lincoln that a Chaplain is necessary in the diocese. What’s needed in this situation is advocacy. Perhaps the Archbishop will be more positive this time. The deaf community is relatively small, but it has peculiar cultural and linguistic characteristics and needs within the English speaking Anglical communion which are not being met.
On October 16th 1895 after hearng and considering an address by the Bishop of Barrow in Furness on the subject of Religious Instruction for the Deaf and Dumb, a Committee was appointed to consider the Religious Instruction and Pastoral Care of the Deaf and Dumb by the Lincoln Diocesan Conference. After that things moved fast. By November the 8th a Committee had been formed, the Bishop of Lincoln was appointed President, and the Committee was called The Lincoln Diocesan Church Mission to the Deaf and Dumb. At the same meeting it was decided that a ‘deaf missionary’ should be engaged. Mr James Pearce was appointed Missionary in May 1896 and held his first service at Lincoln on May 31st.
That mission continued until the Rev Simeon Bishop retired in 2010. Since then the diocese hasn’t provided any spiritual or pastoral care for the deaf community. Deaf people have died, suffered bereavement, serious illness, and other life crises without a Chaplain’s support. Except for the much appreciated help of a volunteer non-stipendiary priest, who does occasional services for a small congregation in Lincoln with an unpaid interpreter, there have not been any church services for the deaf community in the diocese. Sick or elderly deaf people have not been visited or offered communion in their homes.
I wrote to the outgoing Bishop John in September 2010, asking about a successor to Simeon, and he replied thus:- ‘On the retirement of Simeon Bishop, there is every intention to appoint a full time Chaplain to succeed him, and money has been included in the 2011 budget accordingly.’ Clearly there was money in the budget. He goes on….’Of course I cannot guarantee anything in the current financial climate……but there is a definite commitment to make an appointment if at all possible, and to do so expeditiously so as to avoid a vacancy which really is not desirable in relation to this kind of work.’
Bishop John had personal knowledge of the deaf community, and was a good friend to deaf people in the diocese. He was a visitor to the Lincoln Deaf Church on numerous occasions, notably at Easter. He would, I feel sure, have understood the reasons supporting the need to ring-fence the deaf chaplaincy budget. I cannot imagine him saying ‘The deaf have to take their share of the cuts.’
That’s where we are – 5 years without a Chaplain! The deaf community in the diocese has certainly taken its share of the cuts. Even in the 7 lean years, 1967-1974, when there wasn’t a Chaplain, the then Bishop seconded clergymen to take services in deaf churches. I was there. I interpreted. They did their best.
I wonder what parish clergy think of this….deaf people in their parish and no spiritual or pastoral care. Do they know? Do they care?
End of the week and no reply from the Bishop. I’ll write more next week.
We have to be happy for the young woman who last week celebrated the turning on of her cochlear implant. We should also note that a deaf person wrote to the press that other deaf people, with or without cochlear implants, have fulfilling and rewarding lives. Perhaps a note of caution also. The fitting of a cochlear implant does not automatically confer clear speech and normal hearing to a person profoundly deaf from birth.
The deaf community continues to thrive. It was Harlan Lane, a powerful advocate for the deaf community, who wrote that a synthesis of communication methods was the way forward in the education of deaf children. Hearing aids, implants, and other communication devices have developed alongside British Sign Language (BSL) in education, and it is perhaps surprising to some that BSL has taken the greatest strides. It is now a commonplace to see an interpreter on tv news, at political conferences, and in public places such as funerals. Hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, and other public bodies have budgets for interpreting, every town has BSL classes taught by deaf people with teaching and BSL qualifications, universities have deaf studies degrees. There might still be discrimination and lack of understanding (I was told recently of a case of discrimination by an insurance company against a deaf driver), but by and large the deaf community has won acceptance for one of its greatest needs, access to services. The ‘oralist’ dream of integration through hearing aids and lipreading, which held back progress for so long, was shattered, eventually, by the acceptance of Harlan Lane’s ‘synthesis’ of communication methods, and now deaf people with hearing aids or implants can often be seen using BSL.
This is where I’ll be writing about the deaf community. Plenty to say!