“In the introduction to Malcolm Goldsmith’s book ‘In a Strange Land, he focusses on support from local churches and states, “The purpose of this book is to affirm and facilitate an awareness that people with dementia are unconditionally held within the love of God, and that it is part of the calling of the church to minister to them with sensitivity and compassion”.
Malcolm set a challenge “To face up to the presence of dementia within our midst is to discover opportunities for service and growth that are entirely consistent with the church’s distinctive mission and role within society. To ignore that challenge is to raise serious questions, not only about our understanding of what it means to be church but also about our understanding of what it means to be human. To ignore that challenge must raise questions about our understanding of the importance of the spiritual dimension to life and to the lives of countless people, many of whom would be included in ‘these the least of my brethren”. (In a Strange Land 2004).
Society is much more aware of dementia and the impact that it has on individuals, families and friends and there are strong movements to ensure that our communities are or should become dementia friendly. This has been looked at in relation to the communities in which we live but Faith in Older People (FiOP) wants to ensure that this is particularly related to our faith communities which play a vital part in the lives of many older people.
We know that congregations are welcoming to those who are experiencing dementia, but we want to support them in further developing the way in which everyone is included and able to participate in worship, prayer and the social aspects of belonging to a faith community.
The aim of our work is to encourage people to talk about dementia and their understanding of what it is as it often feels a bit frightening, and people become anxious about knowing what to do or say around those who have dementia. We want people to become aware of the issues and to think about the practical steps that could be taken. To raise the questions that need to be answered and to overcome any fears about communicating; coping with the changes in an individual; enabling people to continue to contribute and to find out how it is affecting those who are caring for them.
We have taken as the basis for our work the framework created by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This looks at:
- Place: How does the physical environment support people with dementia? Signage, lighting, flooring.
- People: How does the congregation respond to the needs of people with dementia and what support is available.
- Networks: How do you plan and collaborate?
- Resources: Are there sufficient services, facilities and resources available?
FiOP wants to draw on the excellent work that has been done to date by several organisations and to bring it together to form a resource which sets out steps to be taken to develop a dementia enabling environment. This approach takes into account the capacity of the individuals within the community and the members of the congregation to respond to the identified needs. The guide is intended to be practical and sympathetic, and we will endeavour to up-date it in ways that make it accessible and responsive to current need. Our aim is to support our pastoral visitors to be skilled, confident, and comfortable about visiting people in their own home or in a care home
The aim is to share ideas and progress so that people with dementia can inform faith communities of what would enable them to remain within their faith community enjoying the friendship, routines and rituals which have meant so much to them so that an enabling community is built around them and that those who are supporting them can consider how worship can be adapted to suit the needs of someone with dementia and how we support our pastoral visitors to be skilled, confident and comfortable about visiting people in their own home or in a care home.