What does it mean to take time to slow down? How can care homes provide moments for the people they support to reflect? How can we create space for people to consider their spiritual journey. Corin Pilling offers ideas on how to offer spiritual support in a care home for people living with dementia and why ‘the art of slowing down’ can be so important.
A group of us are sitting in a circle. We’ve just read Psalm 23 together, which is a favourite of many, who join in to recite it. As I hold up a sketch of a stream and trees I describe as ‘still waters,’ we start to name those things in life that help us feel peaceful. As we speak, Jean shares that the times she is laughing, she feels at peace. I pass around marker pens and the group adds to the sketch, covering it with words such as ‘Hope’ ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Faith’ with pictures to bring it to life.
I ask everybody if it’s time for us to sing another hymn. John points to Ali who leads our singing and is holding her guitar and shouts ‘That’s not a hymn, it’s a her!’ This will be a recognisable scene to anybody who has attended a small group in church. Reflections, banter and even the appearance of felt-tips will feel like familiar territory. The only distinction here is that group meets in a care home which specialises in dementia care.
A few years back, we started leading a service in a care home for people living with dementia. A few of us visit the home to lead and facilitate reflection sessions, and the majority of the group are living with dementia at varying stages. We were inspired by one of the older members of our congregation who knew the care home and saw an opportunity for us to get involved. We began with a simple model; well-known hymns, action songs, sermons and prayers. Yet as our knowledge of dementia grew, we realised that our call was to move from running a service, to finding ways to connect.
Recognising the isolating impact of dementia for many, the group’s provision became more interested in what might be the most effective ways to build community. In turn, we named the group ‘Prayers and Songs’ to reflect the move to a relaxed approach rather than a formal service. The first practical decision we made was to remove rows of chairs and form a circle. A circle draws us closer together and creates a space where we all have a chance to initiate. Next, we let go of the sermon. Instead, we read scripture and share thoughts based on straightforward questions. The action songs remain, and we add other sensory activities into the mix. Traditional prayers also play a role, and the Lord’s Prayer features every week
The ways we connect with each other are deeply personal and require time and patience to understand. As we prioritise building connection, we learn to slow down. When we do this, we find a little content goes a long way. In slowing down, we find a deeper invitation. Professor John Swinton describes this in ‘Becoming Friends of Time.’ He writes: ‘God’s time is slow, patient, and kind and welcomes friendship; it is a way of being in the fullness of time that is not determined by productivity, success, or linear movements toward personal goals. It is a way of love, a way of the heart.’
Alongside learning to slow down, a spirit of experimentation has helped us. Some ideas might be well-received, whilst others don’t land as intended. Yet, it is a space where we are doing it together- and all are encouraged to input and participate as far as they’d like to. Whether in suggesting songs, or offering prayers – we create room to try things out. It is also a space where moments of deep faith often combine with playfulness. Last week, we followed up singing ‘And Can it Be?’ with a request for ‘Yellow Submarine’, which of course, we honoured. More than anything, we’ve found that when we see we have a gift to bring, we discover connection.
Through Dementia-Inclusive Church at Livability, we might view engagement with people with dementia as developing a set of keys. We all need a different key to help unlock connection. One size doesn’t fit all, and will depend on our background and our natural leanings, as well as our condition. The best way forward is to try to build up a set of multiple keys. As we seek to discover what works, and what doesn’t – our collection of keys will change, along with our pace.
‘Slow me down, Lord,
Ease the pounding of my heart
By the quieting of my mind
Steady my hurried pace
With a vision of the eternal reach of time.’
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