Welcome Back, Lynda Everman and Don Wendorf With Dementia-Friendly Worship

About Dementia Friendly Worship Lynda Everman Don Wendorf

 Dementia-Friendly Worship: A Multifaith Handbook for Chaplains, Clergy and Faith Communities

by Lynda Everman and Don Wendorf

We didn’t edit this book 25 years ago when we became caregivers for our parents and spouses. It wasn’t because we were too busy and stressed, which we were, but because we didn’t even know it was needed. There was no concept of “dementia-friendly” faith communities and little understanding that persons with dementia had spiritual needs that needed to be addressed. Most people thought of them as “empty shells” and regarded them as dying with dementia, not living with it.

We both had received compassionate help from communities of faith during our caregiving days, so when Rev. Will Randolph shared his vision of a book providing assistance to clergy serving the spiritual and worship needs of persons with dementia, we were eager to help. With Will, we gathered our editorial team and the contributors for our book. We wanted it to be multifaith to reach as many people as possible and because dementia is no respecter of doctrinal boundaries. We received contributions from scholars, frontline clergy and lay volunteers of deep faith so caring people of all kinds could relate to this mission. We included a huge range of possible responses, from education and prayers or informal visits or services, to modified congregational services and respite or day care programs. Of paramount importance was to present the voices of people living with dementia so we could hear what they experience, need and want.

As we got into this project, we were inspired by several photographs by Lynda’s late son Mike, that artistically portray what our contributors were sharing. One day, while hiking, just as the sun’s rays beamed through the clouds and illuminated a very old but still living tree, Don thought of Mike’s photos and said, “There’s our theme: Souls Shine Forth!”

This theme is echoed throughout the book: that in spite of the cognitive and other limitations imposed by dementia, the essence of the person, their soul, is still there, and able to be ministered to and meaningfully connected with, given the right training, expectations, openness and resources. Souls Shine Forth is both a declarative statement about those with dementia as well as an imperative to the rest of us to get our souls into the activity of dementia-friendly service.

The book begins with a primer on the neurology of dementia and explores limitations and abilities to consider when adapting services.

Next are chapters by people who have diagnoses or are at risk of dementia. They share how dementia affects them, and how they would like communities of faith to understand, relate to and serve them while allowing them to continue serving others. They brought home to us one of the most important themes that emerged: It’s easy to focus on what people with dementia can no longer do; it is of utmost importance to observe what they still can do and are doing!

The heart of the book includes people of different backgrounds, expertise and faith traditions sharing their vast store of experience and knowledge. They get to the essentials of how best to relate to people with dementia and their worship/spiritual needs, whether that be on a one-to-one pastoral visit, a small group in a memory care unit, or an entire congregational worship setting. Despite their differences, we were struck by the similarities in the wisdom they shared from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh Dharma, Buddhist and Native American perspectives.

The final section explores ways faith communities can go beyond worship to expand their response to persons living with dementia and their families. The most significant theme that emerged was one that touched us deeply: not only can we discover ways to provide ministry for persons with dementia, we can minister with them, as spiritual partners in connecting with each other, our faith communities and with God.

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