Fulfilled living in later life
On the radar

Tuesday 5th March 2024

On the radar

Many people are acting as informal carers for older loved ones or neighbours but there’s a danger that their needs can go unseen. Here Sarah Smith from Christian charity Embracing Age shares some ways to help support those with caring responsibilities in your church family

Seeing new faces at church is always such an encouragement. But do we notice when members of our fellowship stop staying for coffee, come less often, or even stop coming at all? For informal carers – many of whom are looking after a family member at home – this is a familiar pattern. It becomes tricky to attend church with their loved one, it becomes impossible to have a proper conversation with anyone else, and in the end it is just easier to stay at home.

And yet their Christian faith is the very thing that keeps many carers going in the most challenging of circumstances. It is a time in their life when they have a desperate need to be loved, supported and encouraged, especially by their Christian family. Paul teaches us in Galatians 6:2 to ‘carry each other’s burdens…’, and in verse 12, ‘as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’

During the pandemic church moved online and carers, like others, accessed live-streamed church services. But whilst the rest of us are now back in the building, worshipping and praying together, many carers have been left at home. Not only may their absence have gone unnoticed, they may be feeling even more excluded by watching online and seeing others from their church family meeting together. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 urges us to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’, so how are we encouraging the carers within our congregations?

Realising their plight and their desire for fellowship, the Christian charity Embracing Age set up Zoom gatherings during lockdown for Christian carers all over the country to chat and pray together, called Carers Connected. It was so appreciated by participants that it has continued ever since. The weekly gatherings last just one hour, they often include a poem for reflection and always finish with prayer. Carers appreciate feeling supported by others who understand, praying for one another and sharing experiences. It has been variously described as “a lifeline for carers”, “the highlight of my week”, “something just for me”.

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A simple first step to encourage a Christian carer known to you could be to tell them about Carers Connected. Very often carers are exhausted, stressed and weary with no reserves of time or energy to consider their own needs, and may not have heard about this support available for them.

Embracing Age have talked with carers about the ways they would value support from their churches and this was the response:

– often carers are out of sight, out of mind, so churches should be intentional in looking, identifying and acknowledging the carers within their congregation.

– caring often has a negative impact on mental health, with feelings of stress, loneliness and isolation. Offering a listening ear can be invaluable, but timing is critical – carers are unlikely to speak frankly in front of the person they are caring for, and they may not wish to speak truthfully about the difficulties they face at a social occasion.

– be specific about asking for prayer requests and demonstrate genuine interest
about what their life is really like.

Enabling and including
– carers and the person they are caring for want assurance that they are still part of church family life. Ensure that they receive relevant communications and are not overlooked or marginalised. Enable them to serve with a safety net if appropriate, especially if serving had been part of their life within the church previously. Participation is so much more important than perfect performance within the context of church family. The safety net provides for someone else to step in at the last minute if needed.

Offering practical help
– be specific rather than making generalised offers of help, and do not make assumptions about what may be helpful. A good question to ask is, “What would help you most at the moment?”. Consider creating a directory of help that can be offered such as lifts, gardening, DIY, emergency cover, meals etc.

Pam’s story

My husband Barry had a rare form of dementia, which first showed itself in November 2018 in marked behavioural change. For 42 years I had been married to a very gentle, patient and caring Baptist minister; suddenly I was presented with a volatile, aggressive, verbally abusive person who could turn the air blue with his swearing! For a long time he had had a particularly severe form of essential tremor. This had caused a steady decline in his mobility and, after a spell in hospital in August 2019, he was discharged bedbound. Thankfully I had earlier felt prompted by God to explore live-in care, and this was hastily actioned so he could return home. After a few ‘okay but not ideal’ carers, into our lives walked the wonderful Blessing – a lovely Christian carer who fitted in so well and remained with us for Barry’s final 2.5 years. She understood Barry’s behaviour was his illness and she didn’t take his abuse personally.

Pilgrims Friend Supporting Carers Pam
Pilgrims Friend Supporting Carers Barry

Things I found challenging:

• not being able to go out for long, as it took both of us to move him seven times a day
• even less support/contact with people during lockdown
• navigating an unknown path, largely alone – Barry’s condition didn’t fit support groups such as Alzheimer’s Society
• endless chasing of medical services etc to get what we needed
• disturbed nights often dealing with random comments e.g 4am ‘Where’s Windsor Castle?’!
• wondering how long I could keep going.

Things that helped me cope:

• Practical love of friends – a ‘Hug in a bunch’ (flowers), cards, pamper gifts, phone calls asking after me (not just about Barry)
• Carers Connected weekly meeting to share and pray with people who understood the challenges of caring
• Daily church prayers on Zoom where I was regularly prayed for
• Online services and meetings
• Reading Psalms to Barry, particularly when he was distressed
• Time with my sensory comfort box, containing items with pleasing textures, scents and happy memories; special photos, bubbles to blow, bubble wrap to pop!

Pilgrims Friend Supporting Carers Comfort Box

Knowing the challenges of caring, I am now keen to support others. In church on Sundays I log onto Zoom services, to welcome and chat to isolated carers who might not speak to anyone else that day. I also help facilitate the Carers Connected evening group and help run a monthly Carers Cafe at the village surgery.

Carers Connected

Carers Connected currently has Zoom gatherings on Wednesday evenings at 7.15pm and Thursday afternoons at 3pm.

Find out more:


For information about webinars and workshops available to church groups about supporting informal carers, and other topics related to ministry amongst older people, please visit:

Please pray

That churches across the country would seek to encourage and support carers in their congregations, and that Christian carers would be led to Carers Connected to share and pray with other Christians in similar situations.