Fulfilled living in later life
Three simple things all churches can do to include people living with dementia

Monday 10th June 2024

Three simple things all churches can do to include people living with dementia

Louise Morse

After a talk and discussion with a group of pastors in North London on how churches can help people living with dementia, one pastor came up with a notepad and pen in hand. ‘Of everything we’ve looked at, what are the three key things a church needs to do?’ he asked. He wrote down the answer. In my Zoom meeting the following week, Dr Jennifer Bute, who has been living with dementia for 15 years, emphasized the importance of these three simple actions that every church can do, no matter how large or small it is, or how well resourced. They make a life-changing difference.

Dr Jennifer Bute was a senior GP in a very large practice and a Fellow of the Royal College when she was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2009, so she is in the unique position of being able to share from personal and medical experience, as well as understanding something of the needs of caregivers. In our book, ‘Dementia from the Inside, a Doctor’s Personal Journey of Hope,’ Jennifer describes how her faith has influenced her journey with dementia. She is passionate that believers with dementia should continue to be part of their church fellowships and that, if necessary, adjustments are made to include them. Since 2009 she has moved to different parts of the country and joined three different churches, including the one she belongs to now, in Cheltenham. Her father had been a Baptist Minister, but she has never felt limited to only Baptist churches.

Here’s a list of the top three things that churches can do, with others following-

  • Someone to welcome at the door and show to suitable seats. It’s important that people living with dementia and whoever accompanies them to church are welcomed at the church door and shown to suitable seats. These will be at the back of the church, so they can go out and return if they need to without creating a disturbance.
  • Having a Church ‘buddy’. It’s also important that a helper, or ‘buddy’ from the church, who understands how to relate to people living with dementia, sits near them to help.
  • An intentional, dedicated pastoral lead. Efforts to include people living with dementia and their caregivers can fall by the wayside unless there is a pastoral lead who gives oversight and direction. The lead can be one or two persons, but without it people tend to fall off the church radar.

Other helpful things to know -

  • The sermon should have one main obvious point, and among all the new, modern music, there should be at least one old hymn or song that is familiar.
  • It helps to make the pastoral team aware that you/the person has dementia. Jennifer explained this to the pastor of the church she was attending at the time, and gave a talk explaining what it meant for her.
  • Every church member should have an understanding of dementia, and how to relate to people living with it.
  • As well as written signs on appropriate places, such as toilet doorways, also put illustrative pictures or drawings.
  • Check that lighting and colours are appropriate for people with impaired eyesight, due to Alzheimer’s. Our booklet, Six Steps to a Dementia Inclusive Church is available to buy.
  • Jennifer’s website, ‘gloriousopportunity’ has many resources she has produced, including videos.

If you have specific questions on this topic, please contact louise.morse@pilgrimsfriend.org.uk