Monday, June 13, 2005

"Unaccommodated man"

Yesterday it was my turn to take the worship at the home for "confused" old people down the road. Because we share ministry there with our Baptist neighbours, and there's a team of willing volunteers, I only seem to be on duty every 3 months or so. I'm never sure if this is a relief or a pity. I really struggle to find suitable material (the majority only want to sing their favourite hymns, but this seems a rather meagre diet for the one or two who are more switched on). I struggle too with the actual mechanics of leading worship in the dining room, where most of the congregation are scattered about the room, at individual tables, so there's no sort of focal point, - and at least some of those gathered are only there because nobody has managed to take them elsewhere after tea. I'd be less than truthful if I said that I looked forward to my slots there with anything other than several buckets of apprehension, but part of me feels that I ought actually to go there more often, so that I have some hope of making a relationship with those for whom this is still a possibility. As it is, it feels as if I'm delivering hit and run worship, which doesn't quite connect with anyone.
Yesterday was a case in point.The service is supposed to start at 5.30, which is just about manageable if you are doing a 6.30 Evensong. When I arrived, at 5.25 they had barely started serving tea,- and many of the residents need spoon feeding, so this is quite a lengthy procedure. However, shortly before 6.00 I finally began the service, mentally making cuts all over the place as I was due to preach at Evensong, so wasn't exactly optional there either. There was a good response to using tried and trusted collects and they loved singing "He who would valiant be" and "Lead us heavenly Father". I was trying to talk about pilgrimages, and the idea of being taken somewhere without really wanting to make the journey,(something which seemed to speak loud and clear to their context) so I used retelling of the Abram story from Sarai's viewpoint,which worked really well. But I did feel so much that I was a kind of ministerial equivalent of meals on wheels...rushing in, delivering what I had in stock and departing without pausing to pass the time of day or see if the food was to their taste.
As I was setting up, one lady, in great distress, cried out "Nobody cares at all" and I knew what I should do was take the time to be with her and hold her hand and just reassure her that she is still a human being, despite the wreckage of mind and body. She seemed to be very sure that she didn't want to be left in the dining room for worship, but the carers told her (not unkindly) "You don't really mean that" and to me "She used to be a nun, you know". This was apparently sufficient reason to ignore her pleas to be put to bed, and to leave her wheelchair parked firmly in the dining room, - .so now I had an added dilemma of whether or not to force-feed her with worship, as it were. In the end, I had to proceed, and, startlingly, she suddenly calmed down and joined in the Lord's Prayer with apparent equinimity, if not enthusiasm. But she haunted my dreams last night..nailed to her cross, if you like, with the well intentioned hymn singing enveloping her in an unwanted embrace from which there was no escape.

8 comments:

Songbird said...

Oh, I have been there, Kathryn. It's the hardest kind of worship. You have no idea what is getting through, if anything, and then when you're finished someone who is more present than you thought tells you how much it meant to them.
Sending a hug from across the pond...

Chris said...

If it's any encouragement, there are a couple of members of my church in that home and they have on a few occassions told me that they appreciate these services.

Mark (psychotherapist and NHS chaplain) said...

Many of us will have been there, too and left feeling pretty useless. Perhaps there's an answer to be found in staying there, or at least in spending time with the people when you're not rushing off to lead Evensnog (sic). Understanding how your sense of disconnectdness relates to theirs, perhaps in a transferential sense, will help, too.

John Swinton (Aberdeen Uni) wrote this, ""The particular way in which dementia has been constructed under the influence of the bio-medical model of health and illness has blinded us to some fundamental issues of personhood, spirituality and humanness. The crucial significance of dementia as a human experience, and indeed as a deeply spiritual experience ….. has been overlooked or down-played in the development of current understandings of dementia and accompanying modes of caring. Re-constructing dementia using a spiritual perspective based on the lived experience of dementia (spirituality being understood in its widest sense as the human quest for meaning, purpose, value and hope as well as that which is transcendent and captured within established religions), reconstructing dementia using a spiritual perspective offers new possibilities of understanding dementia. A concentration on the spiritual contributes to a process of holistic reframing of what dementia is as a biological, social and spiritual phenomenon, moving us towards a perspective which captures the fullness of sufferers as relational and spiritual persons with concomitant needs. Such an approach helps resurrect the personhood of dementia sufferers and reconnects people who are by definition in the process of being disconnected from self, others and God."

There's a useful report at http://www.dementia-voice.org.uk/Projects/spiritualityreport.doc

and you might find this book helpful, "A Guide to the Spiritual Dimension of Care for People with Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia (More than Body, Brain and Breath)" by Eileen Shamy

Paperback 1-84310-129-7, 2003, 224 pages.

Stick with it and with them; allow them to teach you about the presence of God and share that with them; they are a gift to you.

Mark (again) said...

Meant to add that the Methodist Homes website has some useful bits on spirituality/ageing.. try http://www.mha.org.uk/ and click on the link to spirituality/chaplaincy.

Kathryn said...

Thanks Mark. That's both interesting and helpful. I have so much to learn, in so many directions...

Caroline said...

to me it feels so uncomfortable that your ministry there is so 'slotted in' and the timing so inflexible and constrained by the 'real church' (aka bricks mortar and regular services). I'm glad there's been some positive, indirect, feedback tho.

If you will always have to get to evensong too why not cancel the church service once a month and get the parishoners to share in their minsiters service in the dining room? Yeah right. Dream on Caroline :)

Kathryn said...

As it happens, Caroline my love, your reaction was very closely akin to Michael's, at least in the first part. He has told me that I must be quite relaxed about not turning up at Evensong if that happens again...says he'll read them some poetry instead of a sermon. I asked if we could do that whenever I was supposed to be preaching...but this seemed to be regarded as a cop-out! Can't think why.
Not sure I could cope with the added confusion of extra St Mary's types at the home service (which of course is now Radio 4!)though a few of our evensong regulars could slot in very happily there without anyone suspecting a thing! Hugs xx

Sister said...

Good to find your blog. I cared for my grandmother with Alzheimers, and the wonder was that most of the time she radiated a joyful awareness of the presence of God, despite being confused as to who was around her. She was comforted simply by hearing the familiar words of the office.
Every blessing.