As we near Christmas, I wonder if you’ve been casting an eye back over 2021. Within our dementia-friendly churches network, we often notice both head and heart, facts and feelings.
Reviewing the dementia-friendly churches network in 2021, here’s an overview, at head and heart level.
- Dementia-Friendly Churches Newsletter: We currently have 373 subscribers and we shared nine Newsletters during the year. If you’d like to receive the Newsletter and keep in touch with the latest news on dementia-friendly churches, just email Sarah Thorpe.
- Dementia-Friendly Churches Local Network Meetings: None of us has to go it alone, through the deep waters of dementia: local network meetings offer a chance to explore issues and challenges, to share what we are learning and to encourage one another. They held on Zoom or in person across six regional areas. At one meeting, our conversation focused on what motivates us to take action on dementia. This year, we held 16 local network meetings, with 55 people attending at least one meetings.
- Dementia-Friendly Churches Toolkit Team and Reources: This year, a group of about 20 active participants has shared a resource of 26 bite-sized videos, covering:
- Our four-session 'Dementia-Friendly Churches' course;
- A sister session on 'Dementia and Spirituality'; and
- Four excerpts from a play about dementia called, 'The Disappearance of Eliza Grey'.
We’ve shared a 'Dementia & Spirituality' Training morning in September – and we’re sharing three pictures to help us see the bigger picture, noticing God’s presence as dementia progresses and had five other Toolkit Team meetings this year. From this, participants have run sessions in five different locations around the diocese, using the Toolkit resources.
- Dementia-Friendly Church Certificates: We have 94 churches with current certificates, across the diocese; these are covered by 45 different certificates, as some certificates cover all the churches in a benefice. Some churches are now on the fourth annual renewal of their certificate. Each certificate lists three actions on dementia that the church will take in the following 12 months. One church went to town, including no less than eight actions!
- Church groups for people affected by dementia: Throughout the pandemic, our church groups for people affected by dementia have been able to keep in touch – whether by phone calls, doorstep visits, outdoor meetings like a 'Spring Afternoon Saunter', Zoom meetings or meetings in smaller groups. We’ve realised that, as part of our local communities, church groups have been able to be responsive, flexing our offering to the evolving pandemic restrictions. So there are now at least six groups for people affected by dementia which are open and active, across the Diocese. One of these groups, Warm Welcome on Wednesdays in Newport, was given the High Sheriff’s Award in March, “in recognition of great and valuable service to the community”.
- Wider collaboration: We’re always glad to partner with others and this year’s highlights have included contributing to a Walsall Hindu Forum event in May, being quoted in a Church Times national newspaper article on 11 June, 'How to blunt the claws of dementia', contributing to 'Faith in Later Life', a Sunday Night Live programme hosted by Pam Rhodes on the Premier Christian Radio YouTube Channel in July and participating as a panellist at a FaithAction 'World Alzheimer’s Month' coffee house event in September. We are glad to work with other dioceses and denominations regularly, sharing resources and supporting and encouraging next steps on becoming more dementia-friendly.
The heart of our network is the people who affected by dementia, who we stay in step with through our dementia-friendly churches network.
Here are some of the voices from around the network:
- From a family carer, after a church group for people affected by dementia: “Thank you so much for welcoming Mum throughout the session yesterday. She says she had a ‘really lovely day’ and is keen to attend again, all being well. All of the other leaders and supporters were also very caring and considerate towards her, for which I am very grateful – she remains a character, and of course it takes some thought and consideration to ensure she feels ‘properly included’ these days.”
- From a family carer, about a church group for people affected by dementia: “You filled the void left as [another group meeting] was curtailed. It is truly heartwarming to be involved with and supported by such a wonderful group of people.”
- From someone who had attended a Dementia Introduction session: “Many thanks for the session. It was thought provoking and inspiring but more importantly it has given me the confidence to think we can move forward to become more dementia friendly.”
- From a vicar, after coming to a Dementia Introduction session with some people from his church: “I have just been at one of our ‘Places of Welcome’ sessions and one of the participants was talking about the ’bookcase’ and saying how it had helped her relate to her own mother.”
- From someone affected by dementia: “It’s getting harder and harder, but Brian gave me a piece of his work which has got those words from the Bible about love… 1 Corinthians 13… and when I get really angry I read this, it’s on the mantelpiece and I go into the living room and read it no matter what time, day or night, and it ALWAYS calms me down.”
- From someone affected by dementia: “My faith remains strong. I feel that God is with me in my dementia.”
- From someone affected by dementia: “Church feels a safe place where I can turn up and know that I will be cared for and understood.”
“I was part of it”
As one vicar said at a recent local network meeting, “This isn’t just about dementia-friendly churches: it’s much bigger than that”. It’s about creating churches and communities that understand and connect with everyone, including people affected by dementia. It’s about life that’s bigger than all the limitations that we face, allowing the light to shine through. It’s about staying in step as patterns change, meeting each other where we are. It’s about teamwork, which allows us to navigate the challenges of life together: none of us is asked to go it alone.
The last word goes to Shirley. She was part of the Forget-me-not carol singing group in St Andrew’s Church, Shifnal at the Christmas Tree Festival earlier this month. The church was filled with 68 trees, each decorated by different groups from across the church and community. After the carol singing, the vicar asked Shirley, “Did you enjoy the carol singing?” Shirley, who had joined in the singing wholeheartedly, throwing in some wonderful descants for good measure, responded, emphatically, “I was part of it”.
Shirley’s words speak of being offered space to participate, to share life together – and it’s richer for us all, when we all have an opportunity to participate.