‘There are numerous stories of people forming new friendships’

Love Your Neighbour, a movement of faith and community groups, was launched in July in Birmingham, in the wake of a rise in hate crime following the EU Referendum vote. Jessica Foster, policy adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham, writes about the impact of the campaign in a blog to mark Hate Crime Awareness Week

Walking through the streets of the suburb in which I live I see a woman I know vaguely wearing a Love Your Neighbour sticker. I never quite work out where she got the sticker from but she tells me a story of how she saw a woman being racially abused on the bus and she found she had the courage to step in and intervene.

Love Your Neighbour is an idea and a movement which emerged in several places, it brings together people from across all sorts of sectors and is interpreted in many different ways. Orange banners are dotted liberally around the city of Birmingham outside community centres, schools and places of worship while posters and stickers circulate at events and gatherings. The movement has also spread to other cities and neighbourhoods with local launches and gatherings proudly flying their orange banner of neighbourliness and kindness.

The banners are carefully designed to carry a number of messages very simply. The graffiti text is a direct response to the abusive graffiti that appeared over the summer. The ‘Love’ and ‘Neighbour’ are made to stand out and the ‘your’ is there to make you look closer and elicit a personal response The colours are related to the sun rising and the subtle shapes are about shaping community in our new world.

‘Do something kind’ was added to the initial text to ensure the campaign had a personal and practical element and could not be greeted with complacency or indifference. It has generated a lot of activity on-line as people happily record acts of kindness they have received as well as those they have generated.

Acts of kindness range from cleaning the staff loos and leaving origami on the toilet roll to Muslims and Christians cleaning up gardens together. There are numerous stories of people forming new friendships, food being shared by neighbours, pets being cared for and jobs done for one another.

Pledges made during the July launch event included:

  • I will befriend a refugee.
  • I will smile!
  • I will promote and encourage the people of St Michael’s Boldmere to get involved.
  • I will remove waste from my elderly neighbour’s garden before she returns from hospital.
  • I will be kind and friendly to everyone, even when they are not kind and friendly to me!
  • I will go to our local asylum hostel and assure them they are welcome in Selly Park & Birmingham.
  • I will buy some extra tins for the food bank.
  • I will tell people in certain areas that people in minority groups are fearful of them.
  • I will say hello to everyone who walks down my street.
  • I will take Christian friends to share Iftar with Muslim neighbours.
  • I will do everything I can to stop racism and xenophobia.
  • I will say thank you to a low paid worker whose service I depend upon.
  • I will be friendly and kind to everyone, even when they are not being friendly to me.
  • I will be inclusive and kind.
  • I will entertain 5 strangers tonight for dinner.
  • I will love justice, show kindness and walk humbly with God.
  • I will smile and say hello.
  • I will invite my older neighbour in for tea.
  • I will promote unity and kindness on campus – University of Birmingham.
  • I will embrace difference and celebrate unity.
  • I will speak to someone new from a different background to myself to start a new conversation.
  • I will smile and chat with people when I am out and about.
  • I will give out Eid food this year to all my neighbours.
  • I will chat and smile at people.
  • I will invite neighbours to a BBQ.
  • I will smile and welcome everyone!
  • I will look out and talk to unknown people.
  • I will forgive and let go.

A Love Your Neighbour week in Birmingham is being planned during November, a group of friends from different faiths are hoping to volunteer at Calais and the banner continues to pop up at festivals, gigs and gatherings. It’s a movement which anyone can join – the only criteria is that you do something kind and seek to love your neighbour – particularly those feeling unwelcome and on the margins.

Jessica Foster
Policy Adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham

Code for the Kingdom

Code might look like gobbledygook to some, but it’s the building blocks of an app or a website – it’s what makes everything tick. Code is the language that allows websites, systems, applications, programmes and many other things to run. It allows you to not just build things, but customise how they look and function too. Code is powerful.

When you think of code and coding you don’t necessarily think of the church, but in two weeks time, a collection of Christian coders, designers and thinkers will be coming together at a ‘hackathon’ – a 48 hour event where teams try to solve big issues through code. This isn’t the first time Christian coders have come together, pooling their knowledge and skills to provide solutions for issues that have others scratching their heads.

Last year, Kingdom Code launched their hackathon which saw people from all over the country handed challenges to solve through the creation of apps. The results included a Tearfund disaster relief app which gathered data on the ground to aid relief efforts, an app to help find homes for refugees and another to encourage prayer. Some became fully usable apps within the 48 hours and others were just an idea of how it would work with the potential to be much more. If you think about the time it can take to build a brand new website or app, then consider what can be achieved in two days; and you begin to realise the impact this kind of technology could have in day to day life.

It was also a chance for Christians that were passionate about technology to meet one another, worship together and forge new friendships. At the heart of this group is a desire to seek God’s Kingdom through their skills.  Below is just a snapshot of what they got up to:

This year Church of England is sponsoring one of the challenges put forward to the attendees which encourages them to think about how evangelism and discipleship can be encouraged in a smartphone society.

The challenge asks: “What does evangelism and discipleship look like in this highly connected world? What does it look like to be God’s ambassadors? Spending time with people, face to face is significant part of being an ambassador, but when so much communication happens digitally what do these digital tools have to offer?”

There’s definitely more than one answer to the question and something people have been talking about as technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of our daily lives. It will be exciting to see just how the hackathon’s attendees will take up this challenge and just what will be produced out of it.

So why is the Church of England getting involved? Because we see the potential and opportunities of church in the digital space, of working with those at the forefront of innovation and using that innovative technology to help proclaim and live out the gospel through digital discipleship and evangelism. We’ve already helped pioneer technology-based projects such as @OurCofE and @ChurchLive; this is another way in which we’re hoping to reach out to communities and engage them with the things they are passionate about. This is the just the beginning of how the Church of England can be the church in the digital world we now live in.

Want to get involved? Maybe you work in for digital agency, freelance as a developer, or perhaps you code in your spare time. If you’ve got a passion for making a difference for the gospel through technology, why not join the Hackathon on the 21st – 23rd October. Find out more about the event at http://kingdomcode.uk

Want to learn to code? Try Codecademy for simple step by step lessons. You could be building your own parish website in no time at all.

Tallie Proud
Digital Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council


World Mental Health Day: love your neighbour and be enriched

Hannah Foster is Human Resources Director for the National Church Institutions and Trustee of Livability, a charity that promotes inclusion and wellbeing for all as well as providing care services for people living with disability. 

Earlier this year some Church House Colleagues and I were at a meeting in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  The meeting happens once a year, and as part of the events we take Holy Communion together. We decided to go to the midweek lunchtime service at St Mary’s Hitchin. Slightly to our surprise this  midday office contained hymns unaccompanied by music – slightly unusual in this sort of service.  In the small congregation (doubled by our presence) was a young man with severe physical and mental disabilities and his carer. It was not obvious to us visitors how aware this man was of the meaning of the elements of the service. I was intrigued about this man, and afterwards asked how aware he was of the worship. “He loves the music – that is why we now have a hymn” I was told. The service and its singing had become an important part of this young man’s life and now this person had become an important part of the congregation. It turns out that much of the service have been adapted to include this man, and his carer. Is this not an excellent example of  ‘loving thy neighbour’ within our Churches?

In this case we could clearly see both physical and mental impairment, and St Mary’s had done great work to ensure their worship was understanding of him. Sometimes that is a hard thing to do, particularly with mental health issues which might be temporary or long term and rarely visible.

A quarter of us will have a diagnosable mental health illness at some point in our lives, and most likely if you are fortunate enough not to have one personally, a friend or relative will. For older people the biggest contributing factors to mental health issues are discrimination, participation in meaningful activities, relationships, physical health and poverty. For younger people 20% may experience a mental health problem in any given year and 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by 24. Sadly, the situation is getting worse for many and worryingly studies of social media usage show that Facebook, Instagram and other similar networks can increase anxiety and depression.

Working for the common good must mean ensuring we embrace the breadth of our society and include all in Church life when they walk through our doors. However, knowing how to positively support and build community with those around us experiencing mental health problems is not always obvious.  Today is World mental health day, as Christians it is a reminder that we have a responsibility to support those neighbours whose emotional wellbeing is impacted by anxiety, depression, addiction, dementia and other mental health illnesses.

So what should we do?  Of course talking to, being understanding and empathetic to those impacted by mental health illness is the first step. But what does that mean in practice? This can be easier said than done, particularly if you have no experience of dealing with these issues. It might take a bit of courage but there is more practical advice to help too:  Livability, a disability and community engagement charity of which I am a trustee and Mind and Soul, an organisation that explores mental health and Christianity, have developed the Mental Health Access Pack . This gives really helpful ways that Churches and Christians in the community can support and include the neighbours we are instructed to love impacted with mental health issues.

I do not know how the young man in Hitchin came to start going to that week day communion, but my observation was that the whole congregation was enriched by his presence and that of his carer. On this World Mental Health day I pray that those impacted by mental health issues know they are loved by God and their neighbours are enriched by knowing and supporting them.

Hannah Foster
 for Livability and HR Director for the National Church Institutions.


Praying for the needs of all those affected by prisons

Rev Sharon Grenham-Thompson worked in three prisons as a full-time chaplain between 2004 and 2016. She has now returned to parish ministry and continues as a broadcaster on national radio. Her book Jail Bird: The Inside Story of the Glam Vicar, was published in July. Here she writes about the role of prison chaplaincy in a blog to mark Prisons Sunday and the start of Prisons Week.

‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?’ It wasn’t a chat up line (I don’t think!) but a genuine comment from a man in his fifties, on remand in a High Security jail.

Fair question.

The short answer was, ‘I’m a prison chaplain, paid to be here.’

Although I subsequently left the Prison Service (in February 2016, 12 years after first collecting my keys) the slightly more considered answer might be something like this:

Prisons and their inhabitants, and the conditions under which they’re held, have very much been in the news recently. Drugs, violence, lack of opportunity, staff shortages – it’s a grim picture of hopelessness that seems suddenly to have burst upon us. Those of us who’ve worked in prison aren’t that surprised of course: prisons aren’t a vote winner, and under-investment has been a problem for years. Add to that an increasing appetite for custodial sentences, and we find ourselves with an over-crowded, under-resourced system, exhausted staff, and men and women on a destructive cycle of re-offending.

Now, I’m no apologist for wrongdoing. Justice must be administered and sentences served, as well as respect given to the experiences of victims of crime. But on the other hand, apart from a very few prisoners sentenced to whole life tariffs, most of those incarcerated in the nation’s jails will be released at some point, and will need to reintegrate. I would argue that it’s in the interest of society to make that re-integration as successful as possible.

And as a Christian I would take that duty further: Jesus modelled for us an attitude that accepted the outcasts of society, the sinners and the wayward. Jesus didn’t pretend the sins had never existed, but he offered love and a way out. In other words, he offered a second chance (and a third and a fourth) to those whom the rest of society saw as undeserving.

In a society very quick to proclaim “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key”, I believe people of faith can declare an alternative – “Lord have mercy.”

In exactly that spirit, prison chaplains, and all those associated with chaplaincies, work hard with prisoners, families and staff, every day, up and down the country. Dealing with some of the most desperate people; quietly demonstrating a different way of living; bringing an opportunity for even the most damaged to rediscover the value of life and humanity – their own and that of others.

That’s what a ‘nice girl like me’ was up to all those years!

Prisons Week is great, because it encourages individuals and churches to engage with the experience of those living or working in prison – through prayer, awareness, and action. Never underestimate the power of these small acts of love and mercy – prisoners and staff alike, including chaplains, derive enormous support from feeling that they’re not ‘invisible’ after all.

I truly believe that for a religion to have any meaning, it must face the darkest corners of society, the hardest parts of life. For me, faith is not about judging people, nor even about persuading others to believe what you do. Yes, it’s about accountability, and responsibility, and I would always encourage that long, hard look in the mirror. But to my mind, being a Christian is about helping others walk along their own pathway, as you yourself stumble with them. It’s about bringing light to darkness, hope to despair, and holding on to the promise that with God all things are possible.

I think this is something for us to remember in our own lives too. Most of us aren’t going to find ourselves on the wrong side of the law, but plenty of us will have things in life we regret, hidden shame, dreadful mistakes we’ve made, moments we’d go back and change if only we could.

How wonderful then, to be reminded that none of it is beyond the reach of God, whatever others, or even an inner voice, might tell us. Forgiven so much, every day we’re offered the chance to love without measure in return. Lord, have mercy.

Rev Sharon Grenham-Thompson
Prison Chaplain

“It feels like we celebrate Harvest every week”

Pioneer minister Tim Watson writes about the impact of a “Trash Cafe” hosted at St Faith’s Church, Gosport in the Diocese of Portsmouth. To read about the Leesland Pioneer Project see www.leesland.co.uk

On Tuesday evenings at St. Faith’s in Gosport we host a Trash cafe. The Trash Cafe is part of a social enterprise, The Real Junk Food Project South Coast. Managed and co-ordinated by Chloe Palmer, it is part of the Real Junk Food Project movement that originated in Leeds.

At the Trash Cafe we serve fresh cooked meals and have a shopping boutique of foods and assorted items – both the cafe and boutique are “pay what you feel”. Some people pay with money, some people pay by lending a hand and helping to run the cafe.

What is special about Chloe’s Trash Cafe is that, as with other Real Junk Food Projects, they make use of food that is past best before or no longer required by supermarkets. Over the course of the week, Chloe travels around a selection of local supermarkets and collects foods and other items that are either past best before, end of lines, in some way damaged or simply no longer wanted. It is this food – that would have ultimately been wasted – that is made use of. Perhaps there are some bread and cakes that are out of date, but still usable. Perhaps there is an end of line range of tea bags that are no longer required, or a change of seasonal foods that mean we have plenty of summer spice mixes to use up.

As we set up for the Trash Cafe I put out chairs and tables while Mat Walker, a volunteer from St. Faith’s and a local resident, begins preparing the kitchen. Chloe arrives with a car-full of food in crates and we set-up the shopping boutique, then Mat and Chloe start cooking meals. Various other volunteers pop-in and out. In the last few weeks we’ve had home-made pasta, stone-baked sourdough pizzas, home-made grapefruit marmalade (we get a lot of grapefruits) and a winter-spiced vegetable soup made from vegetables collected by a local church at their Harvest Festival.

Over the course of the evening we might see up to 50 people come through the doors of St. Faith’s. Some come to eat, others to shop. We have regulars who do most of their week’s shopping with us, while others come in to be cooked a meal. Others choose to come to the Trash Cafe as a lifestyle choice, not wanting to see good food going to waste. Any income that is generated by the Trash Cafe gets pumped straight back into the social enterprise, a percentage of the income is offered to St. Faith’s to help pay for running costs, or for St. Faith’s to invest back into the Trash cafe to pay for ingredients for a special meal like a Trash Cafe Christmas meal.

The Trash cafe is part of a social enterprise that Chloe invests so much of herself in, it’s her project, but we are delighted to partner with her at St. Faith’s. Across Gosport she uses other venues throughout the week. The St. Faith’s Trash Cafe came about because we had a usable venue and I was aware that the Trash cafe could potentially meet many needs in our community.

It’s a place for people to meet and socialise. It’s a place to eat healthy food that does not break the bank, and it’s a great way to stop food being wasted. When looking at establishing new initiatives I naturally turn to the Anglican Five Marks of Mission and the Trash Cafe meets many of them. It’s a place of loving service, a place where unjust systems regarding food waste are challenged, it’s also a place where care of creation is top of the agenda.

Sharing Tuesdays with Chloe, Mat and the other volunteers is a privilege and honour. We are beginning to see some wonderful interaction between the Trash Cafe, the church community and the local residents. Regular volunteers, church members and customers have recently worked together to tidy up the overgrown grounds of the church. Its early days but the Trash Cafe is proving to be a hub and testing ground for potential community projects. There have been conversations about the possibility of community allotments, of having a baby/toddler clothes swap, of providing space for other community groups to meet before and after the Trash Cafe.

At this time of year, as churches and communities across the country celebrate Harvest Festival, I’m more aware than ever, that at the Trash Cafe it feels like we celebrate Harvest every week, quite simply because we can never fully know what food we will have in the boutique and cafe, and because by nature, at Trash Cafe the Harvest is never taken for granted.

Tim Watson
Pioneer Minister

‘Poetry gives us a way of reading the world’

Poet, librettist and priest, the Revd Alice Goodman, reflects on the beauty of poetry and its importance to the relationship with her late husband, the renowned poet and academic, Sir Geoffrey Hill, who died in June.

‘Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to,’ the great American poet Frank O’Hara wrote, and continued, ‘if they don’t need poetry bully for them.’ My husband, Geoffrey Hill, belonged to the class of people who do need poetry. He used to say that his first consciousness of poetry came through the radio. ‘I think it was “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way.” I heard it and thought, “That is beautiful.” I was about seven.’

The first book of poetry that Geoffrey possessed—and that possessed him—was a prize for good attendance at the Sunday School of St Mark’s, Fairfield. Somebody had the imagination to give Palgrave’s Golden Treasury to the policeman’s son. Not a book of Bible stories, not an obviously religious book at all, but the classic anthology of English poetry. Looking back now, I wonder what that curate (St Mark’s only ever had curates) was thinking. He (it would have been a ‘he’ in those days) must have had some sense that all beauty is from God, and that the ability to see and express the created world and the truth of the human heart in a way that reaches across centuries and cultures, has intrinsic value. He must have thought there was no harm in a boy reading Shakespeare or Nashe or Sidney or even the Romantics, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Byron. Perhaps he even thought that reading and understanding poetry was a good preparation for reading and understanding the scriptures. People did think those things: once upon a time this was the principal justification for the study of the humanities. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into a Sunday School prize. Maybe the curate simply bought a well-known book to give to a boy who was in church every Sunday. Maybe all that followed was luck or Providence.

Poetry gives us a way of reading the world. Through its cadences, through its different ways of simultaneously conveying reason and feeling and the human senses, poetry makes it possible for people to express thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. On another continent, in a different generation, I grew up with poetry too. ‘The Jumblies,’ ‘Young Lochinvar,’ and ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ were, successively, my bedtime stories. Poetry in English, poetry in American, and the poetry of the liturgy: prayers repeated and psalms sung. Walt Whitman. Elizabeth Bishop. Frank O’Hara. When I converted to Christianity in my thirties, it seemed to me as if I had caught my faith from the depths of the language. John Donne spoke to me and so did Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, the translators of the English Bible, and all the anonymous preachers and mystics whose devotions shaped the common tongue from the time of King Alfred. Poetry gives those of us who call ourselves people of the book and of the Word made flesh an understanding of how those phrases might be comprehended and how they might be handed on.

And it gives us so much more. Geoffrey and I were together for thirty-five years, married for twenty-nine of them. ‘How does this line sound?’ ‘Have a look at this,’ we said to each other over and over again. We played with words. We argued accents and stresses, and the dovetailed enjambments of line-breaks. We scribbled on paper napkins at the dinner table. ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘Why can’t I?’ ‘It doesn’t work.’ ‘Oh, that’s lovely. I wish I’d written that.’ ‘If you’re going to write in bed, please use a pencil.’

This spring the workmen repairing the roof of St Vigor’s found a board on which some other workmen, a hundred and fifty years before, had taken a carpenter’s pencil and scribbled a bawdy rhyme. The parish donated it to the village historical society, and, in its place we put another board on which Geoffrey had copied a couple of poems in pencil: ‘Merlin,’ and ‘Before Senility.’ He signed it ‘Geoffrey Hill, Parishioner of St Vigor and All Saints. May 30, 2016.

Exactly a month later Geoffrey died: suddenly, unexpectedly, without pain or dread. On his desk I found the fair copy of last poem he’d written. It looks forward into the grim details of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It looks forward into a time he would not live to see, making vivid the thickening of the leaves on the lime trees as July takes over.

‘Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to,’ wrote Frank O’Hara. ‘If they don’t need poetry bully for them.’

Happy National Poetry Day.

Revd Alice Goodman
Rector of Fulbourn and the Wilbrahams Parish Churches, Cambridge.

Listen to the Revd Canon Mark Oakley discuss the importance of poetry to faith here.

The Power of Poetry

For some people poetry is exhilarating, while for others it’s baffling.

In a new book titled The Splash of Words, the Revd Canon Mark Oakley uses selected poems to invite everyone to explore the power of poetry, and why it’s particularly important for people of faith to engage with.
Purchase the book online: www.amazon.co.uk/Splash-Words-Bel…ry/dp/1848254687

How chaplains and the Mothers’ Union support dementia patients in hospital

Regular visits to hospital can be stressful times for people living with dementia. The Revd Peter Wells, Lead Chaplain at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, describes the ‘ministry of presence’ chaplains and volunteers offer.

 A phone call from a relative: “Could you please visit Mum, she’s in the dementia unit. I don’t suppose she will know you’ve called.  She used to go to church and we think it might help her if you visit.  Nothing seems to help her but you never know. Many thanks”.

A conversation with one of our volunteers: “Why do we bother to visit people on the dementia unit?  what is the point if they don’t respond, don’t remember and don’t seem to take much notice”?

A chat with the ward staff: “Mrs Smith does not recognise her family any longer. She stares into space.  She smiles but nothing else.  It all seems such a shame and so disappointing for the family”.

The visit to Mum, Mrs Smith: “Hello Mrs Smith, I’m from the chaplaincy team. Your daughter asked if we would visit. Apparently you used to go to church. ( no response except for a brief smile. )  I thought I would read the Psalm 23 and read the words of a couple of favourite hymns.   I hope this is OK with you’?  The Psalm and hymns are read.  The response, little more than a smile.  We sit in silence for a while. “Mrs Smith I am going to go now.  Please be assured that you will be in my prayers.  One of us will pop in over the next couple of days.  We will keep on visiting as long as you are with us”.

The response is not so important.  What is more important is the recognition that here is a meeting of two people made in God’s image.  None of us is the perfect image of God.  We meet each other knowing that no one is perfect.  We meet each other on this journey called life.  Whatever happens to us, people deserve to be met.  Everyone has a life to be honoured.  Everyone has a life to be acknowledged.

The chaplaincy is a ‘Ministry of Presence’.  Being present with anyone and everyone.  Acknowledging our shared humanity, and shared createdness, our shared journey.  A presence that is as much for the patient and relatives as it is for the staff.

Mothers’ Union groups help us with the recognition that people with dementia still need to be valued, and when it is hard for the family and friends, we offer our support.  One MU group makes the most wonderful and inventive ‘fiddle-muffs‘ so that patients can feel, stroke, pull, hold, cuddle a muff made out of different wools and materials.  Once given the muff belongs to that patient and to that patient only.  The muffs can give a sense of comfort, control, value in a world which appears to have lost its meaning.  Men or women can use the muffs but the muffs seem to be more popular with the women so ‘switchboards‘ have been made for the men with switches, buttons to pull and press.  Relatives and staff are so impressed that people have taken the time to make the muffs and boards.  Someone has bothered to think of the needs of others.

Another MU group bakes a cake once a week that is kept for a weekly tea party on the dementia unit.  Real home-made cake, a taste of home for patients and relatives.

A ‘Ministry of Presence’ in so many ways, whether outwardly in the form of chaplaincy team members and MU members, or in the form of cake, fiddle muffs or switch boards, what does it matter, as long as you do it to the least of those amongst us, you do it to Me, recognising the divine and human in all of us.

Revd Peter Wells
Lead Chaplain at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

Listen to David Primrose, Director of Transforming Communities at the Diocese of Lichfield on why dementia friendly communities are being prioritised in his area.

How and why to embrace those living with dementia in your church

Dementia is a disease which impairs people’s ability to remember, think and make choices. It currently affects 800,000 people in the UK, and that number is expected to double in the next 30 years. As a Christian presence in every community, the Church of England is uniquely placed to help make life better for people living through the challenging times that dementia brings. From, hospital chaplaincy, dementia friendly community choirs, Anna Chaplaincy, to thousands being trained in churches to become dementia friends, the Church is responding. Sarah Thorpe, Dementia Support Worker for the Diocese of Lichfield, explains how on how to make a church service dementia friendly.

My work is centred on encouraging and equipping church communities to welcome and understand those living with dementia and those who care for them. Dementia Friendly Churches are inclusive, accessible and community focused and their worship celebrates the meaningful and intentional relationships we have with God and the people around us.

For people living with dementia, the multi-sensory nature of a church service can be very powerful whether it be the hymns recalled from childhood, the familiarity of the cross or words of the Lord’s Prayer.

I’ve been chatting to a couple of people about dementia-friendly church services this week. St Andrew’s Church, Aston near Telford held a dementia-friendly main Sunday service recently, put together by Rev Leonie Wheeler and Hilary Griffin.  Hilary told me some of the adaptations they made to their service:

  • A shorter, simplified non-Eucharistic service.
  • Simple name badges, to make people easily identifiable.
  • Extra people as welcomers, able to support people during the service and guide people easily to the toilets in the church hall.
  • The St Andrew’s Church Memory Box was left open at the back of church throughout the service, available to anyone who wanted to engage with its contents.
  • Cold drinks were provided at the back of church throughout the service.
  • An initial announcement made it clear that people were free to move about during the service, if they wanted to.
  • Familiar hymns were chosen: “Guide me O thou great redeemer” was particularly commented on as someone’s favourite.  Music is so important, often connecting even when words are fraying at the edges: we have a wonderful resource in our hymns.
  • The talk was simple and short, using an accessible, relevant Olympic theme of “running the race”.
  • The prayers used objects and movement, instead of a barrage of words.  So people reflect on a person or situation they wanted to give thanks for – and then were invited to choose a flower and place it in a vase, as a sign of God’s goodness and our gratitude.  Next, everyone held a stone in their hand, noting a worry or anxiety, before placing it in a basket, as they gave it to God and felt the weight lifted from their hands.
  • The service included the Lord’s Prayer in its traditional form.  This can connect so deeply – even for people who are making few word-based connections.

One daughter has acknowledged, at a dementia-friendly service she brings her mother to, “It’s a real relief to bring mum to a place where people will accept her as she is and I don’t have to feel embarrassed.”

As dementia advances, it’s  important that family and carers can still involve people with dementia in community activities: it’s all too easy for people to become isolated and to stop joining in, because it becomes too much of a stretch.  A Carers UK survey confirmed that 8 in 10 carers have felt lonely or socially isolated because of their caring responsibilities – and a properly inclusive church service and welcoming church community can be a really creative response to that startling statistic.  Others have noted different strengths of dementia-friendly services: “sharing”, “support”, “celebrating”, “community” and “continuity and stability”, as well as “staying in step through changes”.

What other elements might you consider, if you are putting together a dementia-friendly church service? Pictorial signposts on the service sheet can help people to follow – perhaps a picture of praying hands or music, a bible or a candle.

Think about ways of moving from head-level, word-based worship to whole-hearted, inclusive worship. You can include active participation by passing an object round as a key focus, or sharing actions for songs, like “He’s got the whole world in his hands”.  Candles or a cross can provide a clear visual focus.  You could use smell and taste by bringing in a loaf of home-baked bread, fresh from the oven, with the reading, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).

Have a look at Livability’s “Top Ten Tips” for dementia-friendly worship and prayer.

Above all, notice the atmosphere of your service: don’t get stuck in rigid expectations or requirements, but value an easy and accepting atmosphere, so that unexpected responses or involvement can be incorporated. So in our church, everyone loved the way Mary engaged with the choir’s singing, as she walked down the aisle after communion conducting happily, spreading smiles to everyone: even at the heart of a formal communion service, we all felt the transforming, present-moment life she brought to our service.

Sarah Thorpe
Diocese of Lichfield

Facing dementia with a loving welcome

Dementia affects 800,000 people in the UK and that number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

The Revd David Primrose, Director of Transforming Communities for Diocese of Lichfield tells us about the vital role churches can play in supporting people living with Dementia.