Mat Ray is Head of Church Partnerships at Livability and shares his learning from Greenbelt 2017.
I came back from Greenbelt, the annual festival of arts, faith and activism, a week ago. But rather than my normal post-festival blues, I’m still full of joy. There was something special about this year’s event, and not just the fantastic sunny weather.
Nearly a year ago, Livability met with Greenbelt and asked a question – ‘What if we could put on the most accessible church service ever?’ So, together with friends and partners around the country, we designed a church service that reflects our heart for inclusion. And on the Sunday, the festival exceeded our expectations.
Over 6,000 gathered in and around Greenbelt’s big top. Together we sang using Makaton signs, shared the peace in British Sign Language, used our senses in prayer, and told each other a Bible story using symbol flash cards. The service also made use of technology to enable people’s inclusion and participation. The Bible reading was loud and clear, via a live telephone link-in, read by Tanya Marlow who lives on the South Coast, and whose health needs prevent her from leaving her home much of the time. The sermon came from 14 year-old Becky Tyler, who used a speech generating device called a Tobii Dynavox, to share a powerful message about her faith and life experience. In Becky’s own words, her Tobii Dynavox makes her sound ‘like Stephen Hawking, but much nicer!
Almost every time I talk to churches about including disabled people, I get one of two responses – either ‘We don’t have the money’ or ‘I don’t really know what that would look like’. So here are four simple and cheap actions, taken from the Greenbelt service.
We are passionate about inspiring local churches to be places of welcome for everyone, particularly people who are isolated. If you would like to know more about turning your Sunday service into a truly inclusive gathering, we would love to help.