The Episcopal Church of the Advent —a community of down-to-earth, humorous, faithful followers of Christ— was founded on December 1, 1957.
hmmm... we will add more history of Advent in here!...
St. Thomas Episcopal Church of the Deaf first gathered for worship in ASL Christ Church Cathedral in 1876, and became a Mission Church on May 30, 1930. Over the years the church has had its ups and downs, mainly regarding the access to a priest fluent in ASL (some deaf themselves).
In 2007 the Rev. Dr. Emily Hillquist Davis was ordained to the priesthood and immediately became the "Vicar" of St. Thomas. Rev. Emily LOVES languages and is fluent in German. She started learning ASL in 2007 from St. Thomas Church members and took Sign Language classes over the years at Florissant Valley Community College and Gallaudet University. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Emily invited other Deaf Episcopal Churches and people to worship with St. Thomas on Zoom. During these "East to West Services" sponsored by the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf, Deaf people from all over the country would take turns leading the prayers, and SIGNing the scriptures and hymns. Signing clergy and a Deaf licensed Lay Preacher took turns with the sermon. This was a great opportunity for all the Deaf People in the Episcopal Church to worship in their language every Sunday and get to know each other all over the country.
Rev. Emily was offered a full-time position as "Rector" of the Episcopal Church of the Advent in the fall of 2021. She knew it was a perfect fit when the search committee encouraged her to invite the Deaf Church to come with her. This was Emily's dream, as she did not want to leave St. Thomas without a SIGNing priest. On October 3, 2021, St. Thomas members carried our cross and our banner in procession into Church of the Advent. Each hearing person was wearing a clear mask to make it easier for our Deaf people to lip read and see their smiling faces! On November 14, 2021, St. Thomas voted to move their office from Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood, and become partners with Church of the Advent.
The transition from being our own teeny Deaf Church worshiping Deaf in ASL to participating in interpreted "hearing worship" was not easy. Over a year later, we feel at home, even as we are still trying to figure out the best ways to deepen relationships between Deaf and hearing people.
Rather than merging, the two churches made a partnership, so that both the Deaf Church and "the Hearing Church" could keep their unique identities. Throughout history Deaf people have often suffered at the hands of hearing people, who tend to deny Deaf people the power to make their own decisions and manage their own resources. While Advent started by sharing their building with St. Thomas, and St. Thomas contributes a generous pledge to Advent, they have separate governance and administration. What they do share is Rev. Emily, who offers pastoral care to members of both churches in their own language. Our partnership is expanding into fellowship and ministries together, as we become more and more "Fully alive to God and each other" in Christ (Advent's vision statement).
Members of St. Thomas Deaf Church with the our Diocesan Bishop the Rt. Rev. Deon Johnson
St. Thomas Deaf Church traces its ancestry back to the Reverend Thomas Gallaudet (1787-1851), elder son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who introduced Sign Language to the United States. In 1817, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Laurent Clerc and Mason Cogswell, founded the American School for the Deaf (ASD). In 1821, he married Sophia Fowler, a Deaf woman. They had two sons, Thomas (1822-1902) and Edward Miner (1837-1917).
The younger son, Edward Miner Gallaudet, was the first superintendent of a school for deaf and blind children in Washington DC, which became in 1864 the first college for the Deaf, now known as Gallaudet University.
The older son Thomas Gallaudet (no middle name) became an Episcopal priest. In 1852, he founded in New York City St. Ann's Church for the Deaf, which still exists to this day. He frequently traveled to different cities where he would gather Deaf people for worship in Sign Language. He also advocated for and mentored Deaf people who became deacons and priests in the Episcopal Church and carried Deaf ministry even further.
In 1876, Henry Winter Syle (1846-1890), became the first ever Deaf ordained clergyperson. Syle became a deacon in the Episcopal Church. A few months later, another Deaf Episcopalian —Austin Ward Mann— was ordained deacon. They were ordained to the priesthood together in 1883.
In 1876, the Rev. Austin Mann traveled to St. Louis, sought out Deaf people and asked them to invite their friends to worship together in sign language at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal). In 1891, this Deaf congregation officially joined the Diocese of Missouri as St. Thomas Mission for the Deaf, named in honor of Thomas Gallaudet, our Episcopal "Apostle to the Deaf."
Now meeting in partnership with The Episcopal Church of the Advent in Crestwood, MO, St. Thomas worships every Sunday. St. Thomas continues to have Deaf lay leadership with the Reverend Dr. Emily Hillquist Davis serving as Vicar. Rev. Emily is fluent in ASL and ministers in English and ASL during along with an ASL interpreter. An all-SIGNED service is held on the third Sunday of the month.
A Missionary Chronicle: Being a History of the Ministry to the Deaf in the Episcopal Church
(1860-1980) by Otto B. Berg 1984
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, wikipedia.org/wki/Thomas_Hopkins_Gallaudet
Thomas H. Gallaudet, Episcopal Conference of the Deaf
Edward Miner Gallaudet, Gallaudet University Archives
Henry Winter Syle, Episcopal Conference of the Deaf
Austin Ward Mann, St. Thomas Church for the Deaf
1881 ECD Conference, Episcopal Conference of the Deaf
2014 ECD Conference, St. Thomas Church for the Deaf
Deaf founder of St. Thomas Deaf Episcopal Church in St. Louis and Deaf ministries in many states.
St. Thomas Deaf Church
c/o church of the Advent
9373 Garber Road
Crestwood, MO 63126
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