If there’s one word that makes Christmas even more special, it’s ‘together.’ ‘Christmas together.’ The thought of spending time with people who are dear to us makes us fly, train and drive hundreds of miles: Chris Rea’s ‘Driving home for Christmas,’ has become a standard of the season. But according to figures released by Age UK, 1.7 million older people say the cost of living crisis means they will struggle to see their friends and family this Christmas. Even sadder is the statement that, 'Not everybody has somebody'. There will also be family members who’ve become caregivers for frail elderly, including those with dementia, who will be feeling isolated. But Christmas is an especially good time for churches to reach out with friendship and the Good News of Jesus, and there is so much help and information about how to do it!
Most churches have outreach programs for people in their local communities. One church website states, ‘The Bible tells us to ‘love your neighbour.’ How can we honestly be loving our neighbours in our communities if we aren’t going out to them? A simple way to love your neighbour is to ask what they need, and then do something about it.’ The website also gives ideas that will help draw people in. But for lonely people an invitation card through the letterbox with a telephone number would be more direct. A worker with a community organisation called Street Associations told of meeting a man on the doorstep who was caring for his wife, living with dementia, who had not left the house for two years. He had dropped out of touch with his neighbours, and had groceries, and everything else delivered. His reconnections with his neighbours and with the church behind the concept helped lessen his feelings of loneliness. For churches who are hesitant about direct outreach to individual homes in the community an organisation called Neighbourhood Chaplains offers encouragement, information, and training programmes.
And of course, Christmas is a deeply evocative time for Christians living with dementia. The Christmas music, the scents and smells, the decorations, the greetings cards and more will release happy feelings from Christmases past, even going back to childhood. Church Services at this time of year can be a huge blessing if they are able to come. A wife told me how her church arranged for a taxi that could take a wheelchair and for a ramp over the steps so that her husband, now in a fairly late stage of dementia, could attend. She said that although he couldn’t speak, the expression on his face told her that he knew he was in church, and what a blessing it was to him. The ritual, the music, the prayers, and the Scripture reading were spiritual food for his soul.
All over the country more and more church members are supporting people living with dementia and their families. Church members are also befriending people in residential care homes and supported housing and many churches are requesting training in understanding dementia and its effects. This is important because spiritual support for people living with dementia is vital, touching the person’s soul and strengthening their faith.
We’ve produced a new booklet that gives helpful tips and six key steps drawn from real life experiences describing how to include people with dementia in church activities, called ‘Six Key Steps to Making a Dementia Inclusive Church’ it’s available here.
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