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29 April 2014

Where is God in dementia?

Where is God in dementia?

Photo by David Hodgson Flickr

The Church needs to improve support for those with dementia says Rev Professor John Swinton - lecturer, minister, nurse and hospital chaplain. His thoughts come ahead of his contribution to a dementia stream at an Enabling Church conference focusing on addressing issues such as disability, deafness and other limiting long term illnesses.

"While it is right that we should lament the things that have been lost, the task of the Church is to accompany people with dementia in faith, hope and love; trusting that God has not abandoned them and that his disciples should not do so either. Having dementia is not the end of our stories."

"People fear dementia more than they fear cancer," says John. "Is it a fear that we will somehow lose ourselves; that all of the things – memories, thoughts, histories, narrative – that made us who we think we are will be gone, leaving us in a boundless sea of meaningless experiences within which we can make little sense; encountering ourselves as condemned to a life of timeless emptiness?"

"If our fear of dementia has to do with abandonment, loneliness and loss of identity, then we just need to remain true to the scriptures to be certain that that is not the case. When we forget everything, Jesus is there. But perhaps our real fear is not that we will forget, but that we will be forgotten. The tragedy of our modern world is that this kind of fear is well placed. People with dementia are very often forgotten."

"But the beauty of the gospel is that we need not fear anything at all. Why? Because 'I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, [nor dementia], nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' Romans 8:38"

The UK Church faces challenges in welcoming and including people with all kinds of disabilities – including sight loss, hearing loss, autism, intellectual disabilities and loss of mobility. "Every local church needs become an 'enabling church' that welcomes, includes and involves people with dementia, disability, deafness, their families and those that care for them," say Churches for All. 

Statistics report that there are over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in the UK. That's one in six of the population.In response to these needs, Churches for All, a partnership of Christian disability-focused organisations and associates, is bringing a Christian perspective to these issues through the Enabling Church: Everybody in conference, West Bromwich on June 3. The wide-ranging topics include issues of identity, the case for interdependency and the demands of an ageing population.