Unsexy, unloved?

Not me, silly. But a section of my community – yes. Unloved by the world at large, and probably not counted much in the life of the Church.

If I am going into one of our schools to do an assembly, I try to come up with my own ideas. When I’ve got a decent plan, I google “School Assembly insert topic here“. And for almost any Bible passage or topic you care to name, I’ll get several hundred hits. Nearly all of them with a practical outline of a school assembly, that were I so inclined, I could use with minimal adjustment. But if I am going into our local dementia care home, and I do the same with “dementia sermon” or “dementia Christian activity” or try substituting Alzheimer’s for dementia, I find virtually no resources at all. A wealth of theoretical literature, yes. Outlines and practical suggestions, no.

brain1pddI’m quite prepared to accept that there are far more schools than dementia care homes. But evidence is that we are living longer, and that diagnosis of dementia type degeneration is becoming more common. And even if we weren’t and it wasn’t, there is a section of our community who live locked-in lives.

We (Church of England) and our local Baptist church go into our local dementia care home as often as we can. We serve up a “hymn sandwich” – we have 24 hymns in a large type home made booklet, all of them well known golden oldies. We have a  Bible reading, some sort of story or response activity – of the very short, preferably visual or tactile variety, we say a prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer, we finish with a blessing. All interspersed with hymns. Some residents join in, some are barely aware we are there, some sleep through the whole experience. We are, after all, invading their lounge in the afternoon. But many of them join in the hymns, most of them join in the Lord’s Prayer. We are helping them unlock their memories, just for a few minutes. Some of them will have been faithful Christians all their lives, some of them are there because the staff sat them there.

Going and leading a service for people with dementia is scary, certainly for the first dozen times. People shout, pull strange faces, might appear aggressive, and generally behave in uninhibited ways, ways which ten years ago may have shocked them. But there are moments when even I can glimpse the person on the other side of the glazed face, the child beloved by God.  These are the people on one of the edges of society, locked away within their bodies and (of necessity) within the home.

It’s not sexy ministry. It doesn’t show up in the accounts of numbers through the beautifully decorated Church doors at Christmas or Easter. It doesn’t enable us to point to vibrant craft produced at packed all age services, or to boast about our engagement with youth culture. But it does help human beings remember who they are and who God is. What could be better?

11 responses to “Unsexy, unloved?

  1. This is very timely – and very recognisable. My 88 year-old father has Alzheimer’s and it’s the loss of language that for him is the most distressing aspect. I have to remember that, to him, I’m both son and priest. (I hadn’t seen that diagram of the Alzheimer’s v normal brain before. Scarily graphic.)

  2. Thank you for this. My father has dementia and lives in a wonderful care home but all the time the carers and we are learning how to continue to find and relate to the people who are still there somewhere behind the illness

  3. Thanks for this. I’ve been involved with these types of services on & off over the years. It’s really moving to hear people recalling lines of the Lord’s Prayer or part of a hymn – the things that lodge longest in the memory. I’ll never forget as a teen helping our minister with these services and the lady in the basket bed (as they were in early 1980’s) who could not communicate, but you could see her face engage when we sang ‘O love that will not let me go’. For that reason I can never sing this without a bit of a happy weep :’-)

  4. Hi Claire, thank you very much for this blog – my daughter alerted me to it.
    My church goes to the local dementia care home once a month – I have been sharing leading this for many years.
    Is it possible to put an outline of our services/talks/hymns used/ online somewhere so that others could share them? Not that they are anything special – only our experience.
    Thanks for the links too – I will check them out.

  5. Thanks so much for your post.

    There’s a remarkable, relevant video clip at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrZXz10FcVM

    Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) has a very good resource on spiritual care for people affected by dementia. http://www.csan.org.uk/resource/its-still-me-lord-exploring-spirituality-dementia/

    I’m very interested in spiritual care of older people and work for a dementia charity (www.lewybody.org). Very happy to be in contact with others with the same interest 🙂


  6. Thanks so much everyone for all your comments and links. What I’m learning is that there is general guidance out there – but the creative suggestions are definitely few and far between. I love Juliet’s idea of putting services she has used out there on a website…suspect time would be my main constraint – but a WordPress blog with careful categories ought to do it. What does anyone else think?

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