Part of the unexpected gift of this season is that we are learning what it means to be church, to be the body of Christ, outside our church buildings. And there couldn’t be a better time to reflect on the way we share God’s love through services in residential care homes, giving space for connection even when people are living with advanced dementia. There’s a real opportunity to refresh our perspective about what we are doing - and what God is doing! - ready for the time when we can return to sharing worship in residential care homes.
Rev Vic Van Den Bergh is the vicar at St Francis’ Church Tamworth and he describes himself as “an average Dog Collar working as Priest and Missioner in the SE corner of Lichfield Diocese. Chaplain, Street Angel, Husband and Father.” Vic is experienced in leading worship in residential care homes. Through our dementia-friendly churches conversations, Vic has agreed to produce a series of five-minute videos in which he explores the flexiblity that’s needed to lead authentic worship in care homes. His advice for making God real in shared care home worship? “Don’t be rigid. Don’t go in determined to do what you want. Go in determined to be Christ to them. Take his love. Take the remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and let the spirit work in them. It’s such fun.”
Why not share these three short videos with anyone from your church’s pastoral care team that goes into your local residential care homes? And then see where the conversation leads you – where the spirit works among you! Learn from Vic’s wise words: “Don’t impose. Go and be a friend. Don’t lay down the rules, but be willing to let the people you’re serving in that place lead you. And be open to the prompting of God in all we do.”
Doing with or doing to?
In this video, Vic discusses his experiences of what happens when he takes communion to residents in care homes. There are the practical stories of what happens to the wafer – including one woman whose took the wafer and said, “Oh thank you – I’ll save that for later”, as she popped it in to her handbag. These experiences raise the bigger question of who understands the eucharist and who understands dying and coming back. And they lead us to the essential truth that it’s all about sharing God’s love and grace. Vic tells us more: https://youtu.be/w3bvsaABk6I
What we do
What’s Vic’s approach, in leading a service in care homes where many residents live with dementia? Enjoy being together – and share music which unlocks memories, whether familiar hymns or songs from the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. One day, a resident’s response to a piece of music was, “That’s what was playing the day I met my husband.” When you share a reading, engage openly and allow people’s responses to lead you. Include the Lord’s Prayer in its traditional form: it’s locked into people’s memories. When sharing the bread and wine, some will understand and some won’t. Finish with a prayer or blessing and a final piece of music. “We don’t need paper. We need love. We need the presence of God. We need our presence. And we need [the residents] to be present, so we work with them to help them surface from whatever confusion surrounds them. It is a very simple service.” Vic tells us more: https://youtu.be/LBHtMFqGv5o
Vic encourages us to be flexible: “I think at times we overplan”. Don’t go in with bits of paper, go in without a rigid plan, go in to share the love of going, being responsive to where the residents lead. On one occasion, Vic played 'Cara mia mine' and a lady responded, “You know, my husband used to come home drunk and sit me on his knee and sing me that” – which led to an animated conversation, not for the faint-hearted! On another occasion, when Vic shared the opening line of the prayer of humble access, “We do not presume to come to this thy table...” people joined in with the whole prayer. One conversation connected four residents who knew a particular shop and the local area, the rogues and the dubious characters – which led on to forgiveness and the sorry prayer. And one week, a carer in the home said to Vic, “Do you know, that service that you did last week – after lunch, they continued talking about it for two or three hours: they didn’t descend back in to themselves.” Vic tells us more: https://youtu.be/-Qf2mhZx3tU