Dementia-Friendly Churches at the heart of Dementia-Friendly Communities

Published: 25th June 2017

We are united against dementia- the message that we shared, through pictures and actions at the recent Shropshire Dementia Awareness Week event that started at St Andrews Church Hall, Church Aston, with a vintage tea party and ended - via a wet walk! - at St Johns Church, Muxton with a Forget-me-not film screening of, appropriately enough, Singing in the Rain. This lively Alzheimers Society event drew in many partners one of the many ways that the churches locally are working closely with the Alzheimers Society. When we work together, we can do more to keep people with dementia and their families woven in to our churches and our communities.

We began work in 2013 to create and embed dementia-friendly churches across the Diocese of Lichfield, an area with a population of over two million which includes Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, the Black Country and most of Shropshire. Working on the initial engagement of dementia-friendly churches, weve focused on three priorities Dementia Friends Sunday services, four-session Dementia-Friendly Churches courses and support for churches in taking next steps in their local community. Theres been such a strong response from churches that we now have three part-time Dementia Enablers in local areas of the diocese, supporting churches in moving forwards.

Dementia Friends Sunday services: We are holding Dementia Friends Sunday services to raise awareness of dementia across the whole church family, increasing peoples understanding and encouraging them to turn that understanding into action. I trained as a Dementia Friends Champion in summer 2013 and we started by holding Dementia Friends sessions midweek in churches - and for any other groups locally who were interested. But we took a significant step forwards when we decided to incorporate the Dementia Friends session into a churchs main Sunday morning act of worship: the beauty of this is that instead of involving only people with a declared interest, we involve the whole church community. Since then 60 churches in the diocese have been involved in Dementia Friends Sunday Services, creating over 1,200 Dementia Friends.

It is so strong to be able to name dementia together in this way and it has a powerful impact. After one service, one woman came back to her vicar with a strong reaction: I do wish you wouldnt mention dementia, vicar!, she said forcefully. The conversation continued and it became clear that she was anxious about whether she had dementia herself; by the end of the week, she had had the courage to book and appointment with her GP to explore this. A diagnosis of dementia was confirmed, and her vicar says that the congregation were better able to support her and keep the connections, both at home and later when she moved in to residential care, because the church family had named and understood more about dementia together.

Four-session Dementia-Friendly Churches course: Our course looks at: pastoral care, in the broad sense of understanding enough about dementia to keep connections as dementia progresses; buildings and a dementia-friendly environment; church services; and community networks. Again, weve linked up together here, with people from the Alzheimers Society as well as from the Memory Service and the library service - coming to the community networks session and explaining whats on offer locally. Our courses have involved 875 people from 48 churches.

Next steps: Finally, we support churches in doing whatever they identify as the appropriate next steps to become more dementia friendly churches at the heart of dementia-friendly communities. Following the course, one church now hosts Singing for the Brain in its church hall; and another church has hosted an Alzheimers Society short course. A number of our churches now run groups specifically welcoming people with dementia and their families or carers: there are now seven of these church groups in the north Shropshire area. A couple who came to one of these groups for the first time recently left saying how much they had enjoyed it: Were going to get out and join in, rather than hiding ourselves away.

Now, moving beyond our initial three areas of focus, were working to embed dementia-friendly churches: the challenge here is to move from the perspective that dementia-friendly church is something we did a few years back to the affirmation that it is something in the bloodstream, at the heart of the on-going transformative work of the church in the local community.

Dementia-friendly communities recognition: Once again, were working with the Alzheimers Society on this next phase, because the Diocese of Lichfield has been recognised as a dementia-friendly community by the Alzheimers Society. A dementia-friendly community is defined as a place where people with dementia are understood, respected and supported and confident they can contribute to community life. Although cities, towns and villages have earned the title, Lichfield diocese is the first community of interest to have gained it.

This recognition by the Alzheimers Society allows us to work with churches to agree an annual action plan of the next three practical steps they are going to take to become more dementia-friendly churches at the heart of dementia-friendly communities and in return, we look forward each year to awarding these churches the logo confirming that they are Working to become dementia friendly. There are a whole range of actions that a church could decide to take, for example appointing a named Dementia Coordinator, or interviewing a carer in a church service. And there are lots of ways we can adapt our services to make them more dementia-friendly adding some pictures to the service sheets, using objects and movement instead of a torrent of words, using prayers and hymns that people might know well from when they were younger. Music can make such deep connections and the Lords Prayer also connects so deeply, even with people who are making few word-based connections. When intellectual and physical energies are diminishing, its vital that we connect into life-giving emotional and spiritual energy.

The three-point action plan will help us to identify with churches what they are going to do in the year ahead and it opens the door to a conversation a year later, seeing whats moved forward and agreeing a new action list. This is, of course, in line with the way action plans are agreed through the Dementia Action Alliance.

And the Diocese of Lichfield is also active in our local Dementia Action Alliances. What a wonderful forum for making connections with others locally. So were working with a whole range of other organisations, including Age UK, local supermarkets, the local libraries, the local council, the CCG and the local hospitals, the Memory Service and others. One unexpected, strong collaboration arose from a conversation with someone who had been making Memory Bags which can be borrowed from our local libraries. From that conversation, she came and ran a Memory Boxes workshop for our local churches: were encouraging churches to make Memory Boxes in the run up to Easter, and to get them blessed in the local church.

Kat Horner, Alzheimer Societys Dementia Friendly Communities Officer for the West Midlands, said: It has been fantastic to see the work Lichfield Diocese has undertaken over the past few years to raise awareness and support local people affected by dementia, and we are delighted to recognise the diocese as a Dementia Friendly Community. For so many people the church is an important part of their lives, and enabling people living with dementia to continue to be an active part of their community, and feel supported to do so is so important. We look forward to continuing to work with Lichfield Diocese and hope other church communities will be inspired by the work they have done.

The Revd Dr David Primrose, the dioceses Director of Transforming Communities, has recently organised a conference involving colleagues from over half of the Church of Englands dioceses sharing learning around dementia-friendly churches. He added: In Lichfield, Ive just been involved in a four-session course with members from eleven of our churches, exploring together their dementia-friendly journey. Its powerful when peoples personal stories interact with experience-based learning. In the midst of struggling with vulnerability, we are discovering afresh how each person, at every stage of life, is held in the love of God.

Page last updated: Sunday 25th June 2017 3:05 PM
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