15-year-old Becky Tyler impacted thousands of lives when she preached at arts, faith and activism festival Greenbelt earlier this year. Becky, who uses an electronic talker to communicate, took part in a uniquely accessible and inclusive communion service that welcomed over 6,500 people, supported by Livability. We speak to Becky and her mum Fiona about the preach, taking inclusivity further and Becky’s plans.
Becky, how did you feel when you were asked to preach?
I’ve spoken in my church before – the first time I gave my testimony was on Ability Sunday in 2015. But the Greenbelt invitation was totally out of the blue and I was like ‘wow!’. I wasn’t sure what to say at first because it was such a big deal and so many people but I decided to be brave and give it a go!
And afterwards …?
Becky: I was overwhelmed by how well my message was received. I wasn’t expecting that! I got a big standing ovation, some people have said that it was a bigger standing ovation than the Archbishop of Canterbury got last year! Lots of people said they were in tears at my words and that it was the best sermon they had ever heard! I love what journalist Cole Moreton wrote: ‘Someone being given a voice is one thing. When they use it to deliver words of wit and wisdom that unlock who we are as humans and offer new hope, new grace, that is something so beautiful it almost hurts.’
Fiona: I was immensely proud of Becky at the communion service of course! In fact I was deeply touched by all of the people who took part in the service, and it had such a profound impact on me, that I think will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have never experienced such a beautiful and deeply moving service. As Becky’s mum, with all the trials and disappointments and dashed hopes and expectations from the past, I never could have foreseen that day, it was beyond my wildest imagination! My non-verbal daughter preached to thousands of people! And in the process it left me speechless. I think God has a wonderful sense of humour. God said to me “I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” (Acts 13:41). And He certainly did that day.
What does the Greenbelt communion service say to the Church as a whole about disability?
Becky and Fiona: We think this service set the gold standard for the inclusion of disabled people. There is no reason why people with disabilities cannot lead a totally awesome service that is every bit as good as, if not better than, any service led by non-disabled people. We think disabled people are a vital part of the Church, and have a very important message to bring to today’s Church. We face many difficult struggles, but these should not disqualify us from church life; on the contrary, it is through our struggles and trials that we learn to lean on and trust God, we see His love at work in our lives and our testimonies prove that great love and demonstrate the faithfulness and grace of God. This is a message that not just the Church needs to hear, but also our communities and our nation!
What about inclusivity and the local church?
Becky and Fiona: There’s a saying that ‘a church without disabled people is a disabled church’. Too often, disabled people are missing from our churches due to lack of accessibility or non-inclusive practices which make disabled people feel unwelcome. It is time for the church to sit up and take note of what happened at Greenbelt and look at its own congregations, its own accessibility issues and how it is including those with disabilities of all kinds in the life of the church. For example, our church in East Grinstead (Jubilee Community Church) has recently installed a ‘Changing Places’ toilet – this is a toilet that includes a hoist and a changing bench for disabled people like Becky who need such a facility. How many other churches in the UK have installed such a facility? This is not just a facility for church members either, it is open to our whole community and town to access, so it is a great way of helping disabled people in our community and witnessing the love of Christ in the process.
What’s next for you, Becky?
After I’ve finished school, I’d like to work for Tobii Dynavox who make speech-generating devices and eyegaze technology. I think I’d be good at testing new technology and software, and I could help other disabled people to use it to give them a voice and more independence.
Read more about how to turn your service into an inclusive gathering.