The Joy of the Angels: an accessible online advent service


First published 16th December 2020

Image of The Joy of Angels Online Service

An accessible advent service created by Deaf and disabled people and their families, friends and carers from around the Diocese of Bristol is now available to watch online.

Church during lockdown has been a mixed blessing for Deaf and disabled people. When it went online, many people who had been unable to get to church were then able to access it from home. However, others who lacked technology and/or the ability to use it could no longer participate. Others again live in care homes and have been unable to leave or receive visitors since March, consequently leaving them unable to access church.

In the summer, the Diocesan Disability Theology group reflected on the effect of the pandemic on Deaf and disabled people and how some of the more accessible forms of worship hadn’t been able to happen online. The group came up with the idea of putting together a virtual service that would be a celebration of Deaf and disabled people across the Diocese but which could also be used as a resource.

The result of this was The Joy of the Angels, a service put together by Gill Behenna (Chaplain with the Deaf Community) and Alice Kemp (Diocesan Disability Adviser).

Gill Behenna (Chaplain with the Deaf Community) says of the service:

“We wanted to involve as many people as possible - people who, perhaps, don’t get included in mainstream church services, but have gifts and skills to share too. Our contributors range from professionals used to being in front of the camera to people who needed encouragement to take part.

“All are valued and all have something to say! We’ve also made the service as accessible as possible - it uses straightforward language that is easy to understand and BSL and subtitles throughout. Some of the contributors also use Makaton. We had such fun putting it together and seeing what people produced. It gave us joy and we hope it gives others joy too.”

The restrictions of lockdown and tiers meant that individuals and sometimes their families and carers were asked to film sections themselves. But, as each section of the film was received, the whole service started to come to life, and it is now available on YouTube as a full service for all to enjoy.

You can watch the service here

Some of the individuals and organisations involved are:

The LIGHT Church

A monthly ecumenical church for people with learning disabilities, their friends, families and carers which meets at St Peter’s Church, Chippenham. Meetings begin with fellowship, refreshments and crafts and are followed by an accessible act of worship. Some of the members attend other church services as well but for many it is their only church. 

Lockdown and the restrictions afterwards have made it impossible for LIGHT to meet and as most of the members don’t have access to technology and many cannot read it was hard to maintain contact with them. The Joy of the Angels is in many ways similar to a LIGHT service and the Diocese is aiming to put it onto DVDs for those members who are unable access it online.

Jonathan Bryan

Jonathan Bryan is the author of Eye Can Write: A memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging; and is a teenage boy who lives with complex disabilities and uses his eyes to write and communicate. Jonathan wrote a beautiful prayer poem for the service which is read by his sister Jemima.

Francis Clark

Francis Clark is a young man with complex physical and learning disabilities as well as autism. He lives in a small residential care home and usually enjoys going to LIGHT. He has a passion for music and when he sings his uninhibited joy lifts those around him – much like Jon who is mentioned during the prayers. Francis doesn’t like connecting with others via Zoom or the phone but was supported to make an angel and join the very short filming of the dancing angels.