Today was a day that came far sooner than any of us wanted or expected as we said goodbye to digital disciple and pioneer, the amazing, Dr Bex Lewis. I was privileged to have been asked by her to speak at her funeral and here is the tribute that I gave. I could have said more, she truly did live her life to the full and her inspiration will continue through anyone that came into contact with her or her work.
Bex’s funeral can be watched here:
Dr Bex Lewis – a tribute from Bryony Taylor
The only way we can be protected from the pain of loss and the grief we feel, is by having never loved. How empty our lives would be, and what a lot of wonderful shared moments we would have missed, if we had not known Bex. So, although what we feel at the moment is terrible, we must try to remember that it is because we have all been privileged to have known and loved Bex, that we now feel this great pain and sadness. Grief is the price we pay for love.
None of us expected to be here today or watching this online. None of us should be here today. I’m sure most of us feel angry and hurt at the loss of such an amazing woman so suddenly and too soon. But today is our opportunity to reflect on all the special aspects of Bex’s character and the way she lived her life as an inspiration to continue her memory and #bemorebex as she will of course live on in our hearts always.
Bex was born in Sussex in 1975 and was one of 5 siblings – she has four brothers. Bex was raised in a Christian family and held onto her Christian faith through her life. She loved school, Andrew came across one little story when looking at an old maths exercise book. Bex must have been about 11. They were learning about graphs and tables. They were asked to compile a table of how many pencils each member of the class had with them at school that day. Susan had one; Victoria had 3; Diane had two; Rebecca had 20! Bex was in the Girl Guides where she made many friends and kept in touch well into adulthood. We can see Bex’s badge blankets on display here, an amazing record of all the travel Bex did over the years.
She went to the University of Winchester to study history and went on with encouragement from her tutor Martin Polley to do a PhD on Second World War propaganda posters – most famously the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. She then carved a career for herself in academia, keeping a particular interest in communication and digital technology. She started a website when she was studying for her PhD and quite some years later, as the Keep Calm and Carry On poster found its way into the mainstream her interests in history, communication and social media converged. I remember at one point on her website she described herself as a polymath – and she really was, she had an interest in learning things about everything. She was a voracious reader and I could never keep up with all the interesting articles she shared on social media on really diverse topics. One of the wonderful things about Bex, however, was that she held her intellect lightly, she never used it to belittle others or make people feel stupid, she used it to bring the best out of people instead.
Bex had a love for learning and a love for life. She was a keen traveller spending many years as a leader on Oak Hall holidays around the world where she made some friends for life. Bex over the years lived in Winchester, Durham and Manchester and did a tremendous amount of world travel, her most recent adventure abroad being her study trip to New Zealand last year.
Bex was a vibrant Christian, she had that enviable quality of being obviously a Christian without being annoying about it! She had a grounded and realistic faith which of course came through particularly strongly after her cancer diagnosis.
I first made friends with Bex on Twitter back in 2009 when social media was on the rise. Both of us independently had seen the potential of social media for good in the Christian world and as our paths crossed we became Digital Disciples together through the Big Bible project – an online community Bex ran with CODEC at Durham University. It was some years before we finally met face to face but it was a seamless encounter, what we experienced of each other online was no different from how we were ‘in real life’ – a term we both disliked! I know many others have testified to the same experience.
Bex was a huge encourager, through her work on the Big Bible project she encouraged a very diverse group of people to get involved in what I would call community theology. If someone said ‘I don’t think I’m clever enough’ or ‘I’m no theologian’ she would simply say ‘you’re just what we need, we need to hear your voice’.
Bex was incredibly open, always willing to make herself vulnerable if it meant it might help others. She became well known for running ‘social media for the scared’ sessions for the Church of England and introduced many Christian leaders to the delights of social media for mission and ministry. Bex was one of the driving forces behind the Premier Digital Media Conference – what we referred to as CMDAC or Premdac over the years. This conference designed to encourage Christians to use new media grew year on year and it was wonderful to run a session alongside Bex at the first fully online conference in 2020.
In 2014 she published her book ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’ and appeared on the BBC’s One show and the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2. Bex was always positive about the internet and the good it could do whilst maintaining a healthy approach which ensured safety.
It is often said that most people only have a handful of close friends and the rest of the people they are connected with are mere acquaintances. When you connected with Bex, however, particularly on social media – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (and latterly TikTok) – you were never a mere acquaintance, you were her friend. Tributes flooded social media on the day she died using the hashtag #bemorebex. A striking number of the tributes were from people saying ‘I never met Bex, but…’ She was a true advocate of friendship and particularly online friendship – which to her, and those who knew her – was just as real as offline friendship. I’ve been struck by how deeply holy it was of Bex that she made everyone feel like a very close friend. So many people counted her as a close friend (even if they never met face to face). This was a truly saintly characteristic.
Bex was a Girl Guide (just like me and many of her friends – we seem to attract each other!) and when I was reflecting on her gift for friendship I was reminded of a lovely campfire song (gesture to camp blankets) we used to sing: ‘Make new friends, keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold’. I shared this online shortly after she died and so many people quickly responded by saying that Bex was pure gold.
Bex believed in being one’s authentic self online and encouraged others to do so. A mutual friend, Rev’d Robb Sutherland shared this on Twitter: “That Oysters need a little bit of grit to start a Pearl is a well-trod metaphor. As I read so many of my friends’ tributes to Bex, I am conscious that she was the grit that made so many of other people’s pearls happen. Bex fostered relationship and community and pioneered her way across the internet inspiring a rag tag bunch of us together to be better than we were.” It feels a bit like Bex has left a trail of treasure in her wake, she really inspired creativity in others, as Robb said, ‘she was the grit that made other people’s pearls happen’.
Bex had great integrity and authenticity. A mutual friend and academic, Dr Heidi Campbell and I have been putting together an ebook of people’s tributes to Bex and I was so struck by the consistency of what people shared – everyone talked about Bex in the same way. What you saw was what you got with Bex – a very rare thing.
I can’t believe I’ve got this far and not mentioned Bex’s love of food! Most of the selfies I have with Bex are of us enjoying some cake in a café! Bex was a particular fan of cheese and of course, a glass of port which I will never be able to drink now without thinking of her.
The first bible verse that came to mind when I thought about Bex’s full life was of course John 10:10, Jesus’ words:
‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
Bex truly lived her life to the full, and all who came across her online could see that was true. However, there is another verse that we adapted together when working as Digital Disciples, adding the word ‘online’ and this really sums up Bex’s attitude to life and how God used her to bless so many, these words from First Thessalonians 5: ‘ Encourage one another and build each other up (brackets, online)… Acknowledge those who work hard among you.. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.’
Bex always said that she wanted her epitaph to be ‘She Made a Difference’ – I don’t think she will ever know quite the impact she had on countless people.
I am so sad and angry that Bex has died so young and far too soon but I do take comfort in knowing that, by God, she made the most of the time she had! She truly won her adventure with life.
Her legacy will be huge, I only hope that we can all #bemorebex – that we live life to the full, share our vulnerability and put our faith in Jesus just like Bex did. Rest in peace our dear friend.