Neil Robinson: How I was ordained a deacon

Posted on September 22, 2016

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Neil Robinson was ordained a deacon in Salisbury Cathedral in June. He has taken up the post of diocesan chaplain to the deaf and hard of hearing in addition to serving as assistant curate of Bemerton, in Salisbury Diocese.

My name is Neil Robinson, a profoundly deaf BSL (British Sign Language) user. I was born into a hearing family – my parents took my deafness and physical disability very hard but they treated me the same as my brothers and sister.

neil-robinsonWhat attracted me to become an ordained clergy? God called me three times to this ministry. I rejected His first calling about 15 years ago, because I was a member of a local charismatic church at the time. I was a residential support worker working for SENSE, an organization supporting deafblind people with additional disabilities while I attended this church.

But finally, God spoke to me clearly through a vision during 2011, while I was driving past St John’s College, Nottingham. The vision I saw showed me standing in front of a mirror and I saw my reflection wearing a clerical shirt and He told me to go ahead with it! I thought I was crazy but I immediately realised that God made it clear to me that He has indeed called me to this ministry.

What made me decide to become an Anglican? Well, I used to dislike the Anglican tradition of worship. But when I first came to St. Alkmund’s Church Derby under God’s guidance, my eyes were opened to see the rich diversity of worship and it made me realise that there is a great spiritual need in the deaf community. I somewhat enjoy worshipping God in a traditional way, for example, the liturgical worship.

The journey into ordained ministry was quite tough especially for me because formal educational and formative training posed me with a lot of difficult challenges. But I thank God for the wonderful BSL interpreters who gave me full access to lectures and group discussions.

Being the only culturally deaf person within this educational setting was a difficult experience for me because I am in a hearing non-signing environment. It took me a long time to help hearing students to understand the issues I faced daily, for example, experiencing minority stress that led me to have a short spell of depression.

Before I was called to ordained ministry, I used to work for Action Deafness as a Community Support Worker. I loved this job but I feel that being an Assistant Curate will be the best job in the world! Despite facing challenges of barriers, I recognize God’s clear calling on my life to become an ordained clergy. Although things seem impossible to me, nothing is too difficult for God.

Bob Shrine, a retired deaf priest, once quoted, “Deaf people are not incomplete hearing people; they are complete Deaf people.” 

I strongly believe that Deaf people can become ordained clergy, not just onlookers within the church community. I know for sure that God can use them to glorify Him through serving faithfully in the life of the Church. God loves Deaf people so much that He longs for them to experience His love and enter into the relationship with Him through a language they can understand.

The cross clearly demonstrates God’s ability to draw everyone together as a family, regardless of their backgrounds.

Neil Robinson is 50 years old, and was born and brought up in Chatham, Kent, into a hearing, non-signing family. He worked in various fields of deafness as Residential/Community Support Worker for SENSE and Action on Hearing Loss and was an Assistant Care Manager with Deaf People for West Sussex County Council’s Social Services before being called to ordained ministry.

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