Helping People to Meet God • Make Friends • Grow in Faith

Rest home church

Currently I am normally taking five rest home services a month. The size and alertness of the congregation is quite different at each rest home. At some rest homes we have communion regularly, at others occasionally, and at another one normally not at all.

Recently I was at a rest home which caters for residents with dementia. People are brought to the lounge from across the rest home and seated in the chairs. Some sit there quite unresponsive, others are fairly involved, particularly when we come to the singing. One particular lady really joined in the service. While we were singing the hymn before Communion, her relatives arrived to take her to a special lunch with the family. She duly went with them to her room to get her purse, but insisted staying on for church. She would not move. I gave her a communion wafer, which quietened her down somewhat, but she still wanted the service to end before she left the rest home. Her relatives didn’t understand why she wanted to stay for church and the efforts to get her to move disrupted the service so much that I could not continue. Finally, the staff tricked her into leaving, as the relatives insisted that she come immediately. Of course I would have thought that it would have been far easier for me to nicely bring the service to a close, so that she could have gone in peace.

I know that the lady was a regular churchgoer before she went to the rest home. It apparently still means a lot to her. But to the relatives it was just one more rest home activity without much significance.

The incident raised two issues with me:

1. How do we make the world understand what church means for us? Something that to us may be really important may to many just appear a strange past-time.

2. How do we give respect and dignity to people with dementia? Many of their statements cannot be trusted, but they are still people with real needs and even a deep spirituality.

Even though occurrences like this are not pleasant, it nevertheless shows that for some people the rest home services are very valuable.