By Pam Smith, webpastor of I-church.org
I first met Bex Lewis at a symposium on online church at St John’s College, Durham, in 2009. She was wearing bright red lipstick to match her KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt, and had the most incredibly warm, wide smile, which drew me to her. She had a vision for encouraging Christians to engage with social media, and for us to see the world wide web as a place for missional encounters, which was shared by many of the symposium attendees.
Bex eventually went to work at the Centre for Digital Theology (CODEC) in Durham, where she spent several years encouraging Christians to engage with the internet through giving talks and setting up the Big Bible Project, for which she assembled an eclectic team of Christians (her 'digidisciples') to reflect on the Bible and the digital world - this is so much a part of her legacy, creating a network of relationships between Christians exploring how to use the digital space, and at least a decade ahead of the conversations going on at the moment! This was typical of Bex’s approach - it was collaborative, and required a lot of patience to assemble the team and coax regular blogs out of us all - educational for the bloggers as well as the readers, helping us to increase our own knowledge and insights into Christianity in the digital space.
From 2011, classic Bex on online engagement
Those skills were also apparent when Bex was involved in launching the conference which became the annual Premier Digital Conference and Awards, which encourages Christians to come along and learn about using the digital space from experienced practitioners, and celebrates the achievements of those who are already active in the field.
Looking at the reaction to Bex’s death online, there’s no doubt that she had a real gift for friendship. She believed firmly that there is no dividing line between ‘online’ and ‘offline’, and so to place people into a separate, somehow inferior, category of ‘online friend’ would simply not have occurred to her.
She brought many other gifts to the table as well - encouragement, enthusiasm, kindness, intelligence, humility and joyfulness, to name but a few. Many of the tributes people have posted have used the word ‘inspirational’.
When Bex was diagnosed with breast cancer, she approached it with her customary openness. She believed in being authentic online, of sharing who you really are with people, and so she decided to be completely honest about what was happening to her. She never tried to make her experiences look better than they were. When she felt overwhelmed, and cried, she posted a picture showing her tearful eyes. When she had bad news, she shared it openly.
Bex was instinctively an educator, and it came naturally to her to use her experience of cancer to educate people about it. She wanted people with no experience of cancer to understand what it was like having cancer. When she was diagnosed with metastatic (secondary) breast cancer, she told the truth about it - that it was incurable, and would at some point kill her. I didn’t want to believe that, because it was hard to believe that someone as vibrant as Bex could cease to be in the world, and it was hard to imagine the world without Bex in it.
Bex continued to live her life and to plan ahead - not in order to put her head in the sand, but to continue living life as she always had, adventurously and courageously. She used the hashtag #BusyLivingWithMets on social media to demonstrate that life was there to be lived, even with incurable cancer. In one of her last posts, she noted that her move to the hospice was a transition to going back home when the Stannah stairlift had been fitted. Always part of the journey.
At the start of 2020, Bex took up a writing fellowship in New Zealand that she had won, (like you do!) because when else was she going to get the chance? It must have been enormously stressful trying to arrange her journey back to the UK in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic, but she kept calm and carried on. She would probably not wish to be called ‘brave’, but I thought she was.
A few hours after Bex’s death had been announced, the hashtag #BeMoreBex started trending on Twitter. This would have amused her enormously. I am sure she had no idea that she had touched so many people’s lives that her death would become a trending Twitter topic. She had no aspirations to be an ’influencer’ (but clearly was one of the best!). It hurts to think I can’t message her and ask her what she thinks about it - that would have been a fascinating conversation!
Bex continued to share her journey as it became more and more painful and difficult. She was admitted to hospital to address the problems she had breathing, and the oedema in her right arm which made it very difficult for her to use. She was in dreadful pain a lot of the time she was in hospital. She still recorded what was happening on Facebook, with great humour, including a critique of the hospital food, including the notorious photograph she posted of a very dry looking meal which included a serving of very dry looking mushy peas that seemed to have lost their mush! Needless to say, she didn’t grumble too much about them, inviting us to laugh at them with her, instead!
Goodbye, Bex, or rather au revoir. I’ve been moved to tears this evening by the many beautiful tributes people have written to you. Your beautiful personality and caring nature affected people more than you could every know. Thank you for everything you taught me. Rest well, dear friend.
Pam Smith is the Web Pastor of i-church.org Twitter: @revpamsmith