September 8th, 1963 Pine Chapel Baptist Church started a Deaf Adult Sunday School class taught by Joyce Childrey. This was the beginning of Baptist involvement in deaf ministry on the Peninsula. Later this group moved to Langley Baptist Church where better opportunities made themselves available.
In 1972 W.F. Shanks felt there was a need to teach the Bible to the children at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. He enlisted the help of his wife Sandra, Milton and Peggy Barbour, Pat Clark, Cindy Powell, Beulah Summerfield, Yvonne Quarles, Irene Byrd, Kathern Duffer, Elmo and Margaret Crowder, Judy Nales, Donna Jones and Carolyn Moore. George Joslin, the Virgina Director of Language Mission Work also supplied encouragement and expertise in establishing this ministry. Peggy Barbour (who’s daughter was deaf) was asked to come to the church and teach sign-language to an initial group of our church members. After initial training, they went each Sunday morning to teach a Sunday school lesson at the deaf school. Shortly thereafter, the classes were moved to Wednesday evenings at WHBC. There was an average of 70 children attending each week. This ministry continued through 1989.
In 1974 an interpreted adult deaf ministry was established. Bob Gatling was asked to start a Sunday School class for some deaf adults that were looking for a place to meet and study the Bible. At first Milton and Peggy Barbour interpreted as Bob taught the lesson. After several months Bob began teaching in sign langauage without an interpreter and continued until 1987.
Sandra Shanks became the first deaf ministry paid staff member as “Coordinator for the Deaf Ministry” which included enlisting leaders for the Wednesday evening program and training interpreters. All worship services were interpreted for the deaf as needed. David Flowers replaced Sandra in 1982 and served in the same capacity until May of 1989.
During the summer of 1987, Rev. Eugene Hughes and his wife Mela were invited by the deaf members to come and lead a Bible Study on Wednesday evenings. They were leading a deaf ministry at an independent Baptist Church in Virginia Beach and traveling to other churches when possible to teach Bible Studies. After about one year, the deaf began meeting separately in the chapel one Sunday each month for morning worship, led by Rev. Hughes.
June 1989, the church called Rev.Hughes to become a bi-vocational Minister to the Deaf. He had a full time civil service job at NADEP in Norfolk. At this time the deaf began to meet weekly in the chapel for worship. Rev. Hughes retired from NADEP in 1993 and became a full time staff member. He was the first full time deaf Southeren Baptist Pastor in the state. Under his leadership a Wednesday evening Bible study, one youth and two adult Sunday School classes were established. During this time, the deaf membership grew from 25 to 84. He retired as Minister to the Deaf in April 1998 due to his wife’s declining health, and a desire to be closer to their families in Kansas City, MO. He and his wife Melba are both deaf with 4 deaf children. Rev. Hughes was called to be with the Lord January, 2004.
After Rev. Hughes’ retirement in 1998, Rev. Brad Hill became the pastor to the deaf in a bi-vocational position. Brad came to WHBC in 1975 after meeting his future wife at Bluefield College. After moving to Newport News to work in the shipyard, he started taking sign language classes in 1982 that were taught by the church. Later he began helping to interpret and also co-taught with Bob Gatling in the adult deaf Sunday School class. Brad became a deacon to the deaf in 1986 and assisted Rev. Hughes in deaf ministry. Brad, Esther and two sons are all hearing. Brad retired as pastor to the deaf December 2016.
The first deaf deacon at WHBC was: Elmo Crowder (1986).
Later additions were;
Bennie Lacks & Carlton West (1999).
Dayton Lawson (2000).
Ben Harucki (2001)
Darin Gillis (2002)
Mike Gallagher (2010)
Tim Griffith (2010)
Services are held in the chapel each Sunday. All the services are in sign language. This is a unique ministry that is able to meet the needs of the deaf while also offering all the ministries made available to the hearing families in the same church.