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London’s First Deaf Church to Close

It’s the end of an era as London’s first church built specifically for deaf worshipers will be closing soon, the BBC reports.

St Saviour’s Church opened for services on Oxford street in 1873. 50 years later, it relocated to Acton. According to the London Deaf Church website,  the place where the original church once stood is now a Selfridge’s.

The old building was specially designed to make it as easy as possible for deaf worshipers to get the most out of services, with a layout that allowed everyone in the room to watch the preacher sign.  Historian Mike Gulliver explained the details of the design to the BBC:

“There was no rood screen, or choir, or organ,” says Gulliver. “It was built more in the style of a non-Anglican, non-conformist church.” There were also twin pulpits, one for a signing preacher and one to accommodate an interpreter for hearing visitors.

While most hearing Anglican churches face east, St Saviour’s Oxford Street faced north. This was for light reasons, says Gulliver. It was thought that a steady stream of light throughout the day was better for deaf people’s communication.

The downstairs level of the original church was a social club, a gathering place for the deaf community. It was decorated with artwork made by church members.

Now, however, many of the older parishioners are gone and the younger generation have chosen other places to worship, either renting space for sign language services at other churches or by using a BSL interpreter. Services for the deaf are only held at St Saviour’s once a month;  the old church is now up for sale.

According to Bristol University’s Dr. William John Lyons, St Saviour’s Church represented a tremendous victory for the London Deaf community:

“With the right to worship effectively standing for other rights—to education, to work, to citizenship and membership of society—St Saviour’s stood for nearly fifty years as a symbolic hub for the recognition of the London Deaf community. “

On one hand, it’ll be sad to see it go. On the other hand, it seems like it’s served its purpose as deaf people now have more options — and that’s probably a good thing.