We hear how a team of Dementia Friends is enabling people affected by dementia to continue worshipping at regular church services.
Two years ago, a Methodist study day provided a turning point for Julie Peek’s work with her local churches. She had recently taken up a new role – Mission Enabler for Older People – at the Highlands and Wesley Methodist Churches in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
‘My focus was drawn to the difficulties for people living with dementia in expressing and connecting with their own spirituality,’ says Julie. ‘I came away with the conviction that as churches we really need to be more flexible and do more.’
Since then, the support and input of an enthusiastic team of volunteers and the minister, Rev Julia Monaghan – all of them Dementia Friends – have transformed how they include and involve people affected by the condition.
Dementia-friendly faith groups
Find out how faith can play a vital role in the lives and wellbeing of people affected by dementia.
The first step was joining the local dementia action alliance, which covers the Southend-on-Sea area, and setting out an action plan.
Although local churches offered peer support, a day centre and a memory café for people affected by dementia, Julie was keen to make services of worship themselves dementia friendly.
‘It felt logical and practical to combine the support of a memory café with the spirituality of a church service,’ she says. ‘This is how Memory Worship came to be.
‘This is a programme of monthly services designed around the Christian festivals, with a regular pattern of welcome, singing well-known hymns, reading familiar passages of scripture and saying the Lord’s Prayer together. These are followed with themed activities that give everyone the opportunity to get involved and be creative.
‘Teamwork is very much the order of the day, as volunteers offer support with craft activities, musical accompaniment, hospitality, cake making and companionship. We have regular team training supported by Alzheimer’s Society.’
A dedicated team of volunteers have transformed worship
Familiarity and fulfilment
Julie is conscious of the need for believers who practise a religion to be able to continue to worship, despite the challenges that dementia may bring to this. She emphasises the ways in which ritual and music can help.
‘I now understand worship to be a channel for recalling the past, creating feelings of comfort, familiarity and spiritual fulfilment,’ she says.
‘Music is a very powerful trigger for memory recall and can take people back to a time when they felt safe and held by God.
‘Each month brings a new example of the power of music in action – a familiar hymn has the ability to awaken feelings of wellbeing and a memory for words without a hymn sheet.’