We’ve recently held a training session on ‘Dementia and Spirituality’ for our Diocese of Lichfield Dementia-Friendly Churches Network. 780,000 people across the country are living with dementia, many supported by family carers. Many people affected by dementia are part of their local church or faith community. How does our experience of dementia affect our faith?
Ready for the session, participants spoke to someone in their church or community affected by dementia, asking them whether and how their faith has been shaped by their lived experience of dementia. We used a 'Conversation Prompts' sheet. This included a focus on the four energies making up the word “PIES” - Physical (strength), Intellectual (head – the mind), Emotional (heart) and Spiritual (soul).
These four energies are recognised in Luke 10:27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”
We’re such a mix of head and heart, body and soul. If intellectual and perhaps also physical energies reduce as dementia advances, it may be helpful to draw on emotional and spiritual energies, the heart and soul.
At the session, we created “post-its” of voices we had heard in these conversations about dementia and faith. For example:
- I can’t blame God for my diagnosis.
- Feel like I am following Jesus on his way to the cross.
- I can’t do church.
- 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 the time, day or night, and it ALWAYS calms me down.
- Where is God, why is he doing this?
- I wish I could remember. Yet it is in the struggle and frustration to remember that I despair. When I strop stuggling and accept where I am I can find peace.
We learn so much when we listen to people’s experiences. Have a read of the first-hand voices, in the ‘Jamboard’ that we created. You may even want to share this with others, to ask them about their own faith and their experience of dementia.
It is worth noticing that there are voices both of lamentation and celebration. It’s important that we allow space both for honest lamenting – acknowledging the cost and challenge of dementia and all that is being let go of – as well as for honest celebrating - affirming the life or noticing the light shining through, even when patterns change.
We have a series of five short videos on ‘Dementia and Spirituality’ which are part of our Diocese of Lichfield dementia-friendly churches toolkit. They are for use by our network across the churches and communities of our Diocese. These videos are recorded by Sarah Thorpe, our Dementia-Friendly Churches Enabler. They are “bite-sized”, each 5 or 10 minutes long and you can watch them together, using them as conversation starters. Get in touch with Sarah Thorpe (email@example.com) you’d like to know more about these, or our toolkit of other videos, covering the four-session ‘Dementia-Friendly Churches’ course and snippets from the play, 'The Disappearance of Eliza Grey'.