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Story by Susan Hughes. Photos by Jess Ward.

Making it to a 25th anniversary is a milestone in any relationship, certainly one to celebrate. So, it’s not a surprise that the Deaf Mission of Richmond’s First Baptist Church did exactly that – they celebrated the 25th anniversary of their ministry on October 19, 2013.

Deaf congregation worship

Deaf congregation Sunday worship

Dr. Peter J. Flamming, FBC’s pastor at the time of the deaf ministry’s inception, shared his thoughts of that time with current members. Mike Jones, deaf ministry consultant with the Virginia Baptist Resource Center, represented Baptist state-wide work with the hearing impaired. The celebration included two songs signed by The Hands of Joy choir and a PowerPoint presentation of 25 years of photos. Buddy Burgess, pastor of the Deaf Mission, said “Everyone enjoyed seeing the changes time had made in members!”


Interpreters sign for deaf attending the Christmas tea.

While 1988 was the official beginning of FBC’s deaf ministry, the story really began several years before. In 1985 Connie Glass followed her passion and vision for this work and began interpreting for those who attended regular FBC services. Connie received support and guidance from FBC members Allen Justice, Larry Fogg, Bernice Rodgerson, Sue Atkins, and Jim Flamming. The congregation called its first pastor, Carter Bearden, in 1989. In 1997 Carter was called to a new position, FBC’s minister to young married adults and missions coordinator. Later he was called to pastor a hearing congregation.

Buddy Burgess

Rev. Buddy Burgess

In 1989, the mission became a full-fledged and independent congregation with its own services, committees, deacons, budget, and two Sunday school classes. The deaf lead all these activities; the only hearing help they receive is from interpreters. Sue Atkins, who is one of these, said: “Our team of interpreters voice for the hearing people in the Deaf Mission’s worship services.”

Ties with FBC’s hearing congregation remain strong, as we share facilities and worship together for special services. In addition, hearing children of deaf parents participate fully in FBC’s children and youth ministries.

The congregation’s second and current pastor, Buddy Burgess, began his service in February 1998.

One of the greatest accomplishments of these 25 years is establishing awareness of this ministry in the deaf community of greater Richmond. Local college teachers and students of American Sign Language (ASL) are also aware of the Deaf Mission’s presence. The byproduct and blessing of that awareness is that as the students attend to observe and learn ASL, they also hear the Word, perhaps for the first time.

Susan HughesSusan Hughes has taught high school English for 36 years in Hanover County public schools. She joined FBC in 1985 and currently serves as deacon, youth Sunday School teacher, Church Choir member, and member of the youth ministry, scholarship, and nominating teams. She is married to John, and has two adult children, David and Ellen. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, cooking, needlework, and watching hummingbirds.

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