My faith matters - capturing what matters to me

For many people living with dementia, their faith and spirituality play a vital role in their lives. In the week that Livability launches ‘My Faith Matters’ a new resource for churches, we spoke to Church Minister Mhari McLintock about her journey in faith and living with dementia.

How important has your faith been throughout your life, both in your work as a minister, and on a personal level?

My faith has been integral; it’s always been key, particularly because of some friends’ life experiences; or how Christians in my life have witnessed through their practical faith. I think of particular instances when I was quite young. Also with colleagues and congregations – I have always valued communities. My faith affects and impacts my actions encouraging me to make the most of each day. It affects my current role by encouraging other church communities to walk alongside people living with dementia.

When you were diagnosed as living with dementia, what was your diagnosis experience like?

Like many people who have had a diagnosis, it came as a shock. I hadn’t thought about dementia at all. Only stress, menopause and it possibly being a brain tumour. I felt I had been hit by a 20 tonne truck!

My apparent difficulty to begin with was of a visual / spatial nature, which is ongoing. I was unable to see some things even though I may have been holding them seconds before, or they were in plain sight (to others).

In what ways is living with dementia affecting your faith?

It causes you to make the most of each day. You value time with family friends and you know that your time could be running out. At the beginning I found myself in shock and I found myself lamenting to God, but I also held on to various verses in the Bible that encourage me and strengthen me and give me hope. I walk a lot more round our local park, for which I am very grateful.

Why is valuing people living with dementia so vital?

I have found my faith helps to be more affirming people’s worth and importance, because so often the assessment of people living with dementia is made from other areas, by other people and it can be quite negative.

People living with dementia need the encouragement and support of a faithful community – the church. It is important that they are not seen as “a problem to be solved” or are infantilized by others.

I attended a talk by Prof. John Swinton at Greenbelt, who affirmed people living with dementia are people of worth, who just happen to be undergoing more challenges that others. The scriptures say: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.

Have you thought about how you might like to capture that aspects of your faith that matter to you?

I have considered it, but I would have to have help to facilitate it! It is difficult – I would need a scribe or someone recording it. Maybe even a specific person to talk to who could guide me along the process. But I would like it very much!

I would like to record some of my life experiences, particularly about my sons, both of whom lived despite difficult health matters in the early stages of their lives. I would also like to record the passages and prayers that have encouraged me along my way. They could be encouragement for others!

What are you hoping My Faith Matters will bring to people living with dementia, and those affected by it?

Provide some hope and knowledge that other people are also living with this condition too. I would say to people whether or not they have a faith: “God loves you and promises never to leave you nor forsake you”. “Neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord”.

These are verses that I hold on to. There are certain other prayers that I have regularly used each night to bring me peace and to reaffirm my worth. Scripture says that we are all made in the image of God.

What encouragement can you offer to people who are living with dementia, or those supporting them?

God knows what pain and suffering and tumult means – because God has experienced it!

There is usually time to be with and do things with those people whom you love and are loved by – holidays, trips, church , meals out, trips and visits.

Why is having faith leaders that are ‘dementia inclusive’ and accommodating of people’s needs so important?

It is important for me still to be worshipping both at home and as part of a community. It’s helpful to have faith leaders who are accommodating of people’s needs. So for example if you can’t get to church; having a minister (or pastoral worker) who comes to you. I would hope I would continue to be facilitated to take communion.

Why is communion so important to people living with dementia?

People have said the words of communion most of their lives and have deep memories come to the fore and there are many “stories” of people living with dementia remembering what happens through communion.

People have recounted stories of people living with dementia who, during communion continue to be fully engaged with the words and actions, which are embedded, producing deep meaning and feelings.

They identify with what to do and what to say, a little bit like The Lord’s prayer. Particularly when they receive the elements, when they lift up the bread and drink the wine.

As a minister in pastoral charge and leading communion I have witnessed this frequently in both church worship and at a local care home, where people seemed to be directionless, but they found themselves more aware and in touch when they received the elements – remembering both words and actions.

God is in the communion, and I would encourage faith communities to hold God central in those particular activities they are called to do.

How can friends and families help to keep people’s memories on their behalf?

I like what Prof. John Swinton says about dementia in “Living in the Memories of God”; that families friend and faith communities have an opportunity to take on the role of keeping people’s memories on their behalf. I like that phrase as it affirms people’s humanity.

I want to get churches to be dementia inclusive because it affects so many people. My belief is that Jesus walks alongside many people both with and without dementia, but a significant number have a diagnosis.

Lastly being an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society helps and enables me to encourage people living with dementia and their relatives, friends and caregivers.

About Livability’s My Faith Matters resource

My Faith Matters is a resource has been developed to support people living with dementia to maintain, reconnect with, or explore what brings meaning to their life. It can be used by individuals, families, and churches, as well as health and social care practitioners.

While ‘spiritual wellbeing’ may sound broad and difficult to define, Livability hopes that this resource will help people who are living with dementia to explore and record what matters to them, whether it is reading the Psalms or sitting in the sunshine watching the world go by.

[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’’ target=’_self’ size=’big’ align=’full’]Get your free copy of My Faith Matters here[/thrive_link]