Was this the world's most accessible church service? Greenbelt's communion of inclusion

Livability partners wtih Greenbelt to hold an accessible and inclusive communion service for over 6,500.

Livability were proud to support an accessible and inclusive communion service for over 6,500 people at the faith and arts festival Greenbelt – last weekend.

“We are passionate about tearing down the barriers that make it harder for disabled people to be fully involved in life’ says Head of Church Partnerships, Mat Ray from Livability.

‘Almost a year ago, Livability met with Greenbelt and asked a question – “What if we could put on the most accessible church service ever?” Greenbelt, with its history of creativity and commitment to inclusion, was the perfect place to run such a service and together, we are so proud of what has been achieved.’

The service included singing using Makaton signs, sharing the peace in British Sign Language, sensory prayers and a Bible Story in 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. This device is controlled by Becky with her eyes and is an amazing way for quadriplegics who have no hand or arm control to use a computer, not only to speak, but for all the normal range of social media, videos and games that computers are often used for. In Becky’s own words, her Tobii Dynavox makes her sound ‘like Stephen Hawking, but much nicer!’

Fischy lead a worship song called ‘God’s love is great’ written by Tony Phelps-Jones, and Livability volunteers signed the song in Makaton to enable everyone to join in. The result – thousands of people all signing the song together.

Mat Ray continues: ‘Livability has been a proud associate partner of Greenbelt for 7 years and working with the event to be as inclusive and accessible as possible. Greenbelt are one of the few events to have received a rare gold standard award by ‘Attitude is Everything’ – the body that rates festival and gig venues.’

Livability are committed to dismantling the barriers that stop disabled people from accessing life in all its fullness. We believe that local churches should be at the forefront of that campaign – every local church should be a place of welcome and belonging for all. But as we talk to churches about inclusion we are often told “I just wouldn’t know where to start”. That’s why we’re so proud to have been able to work with Greenbelt and model something so powerful that others enjoyed and could get involved with.’

The communion service was the first initiative Livability has undertaken with their new charity message of “It all adds up.” ‘At Livability, we know that tackling barriers, caring for and including others, takes a wide range of actions and people. There’s no “one size fits all”. But when people bring their needs, strengths and talents together – it all adds up. We’re delighted that doing an inclusive communion service has enabled us to share something of that ethos at Greenbelt.’ Says Janet Miles, Head of Communications and Campaigns.

From accessible communion to accessible Bibles

Livability were also proud to be making a new accessible bible available at Greenbelt.

Launched earlier this year, Livability partnered with Biblica and Urban Saints and Torches Trust in the development of the world’s first NIrV Accessible Edition of the Bible.

The Accessible Bible is a major tool in helping churches be more inclusive for disabled people. It can be used by anyone, but has been designed in such a way to be more accessible to readers with learning disabilities or moderate sight loss. It features illustrations, a specially designed clear font in 16pt, single column-format and helpful navigation.

Greenbelters were invited to buy one and/or gift one to someone else.