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dementia, the big five and preaching – shelley west

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As much as I love the research and reading (the conversations with other wrestlers of the Word) and discovering new revelation and bringing that before the congregation . . . I wonder if sometimes we make it too hard for ourselves.

Part of the joy of preaching I’ve recently rediscovered is this: simply reminding people of God.

I learnt this over the year from being locked (literally) in a room down in the dementia ward of a local rest home. Our church is part of a few who provide a special Sunday service for those who attend. Many of my friends there are in a particular fog – some having forgotten how to read and are at the best of times scared. Others are immobile having forgotten how to open doors and have to be strapped down for fear of wandering or wheeled in now unable to walk.

But, when the music starts, the old hymns and tunes are somewhat known and sung – no song sheets are needed. For our little homily, we purposely pick known characters: the David’s, Peter’s, and Paul’s of our Scripture, work around the theology of the old hymns or simply tell stories of Jesus. No PowerPoints or even 5 points – mostly it’s the simple stories of God’s grace and love. I hear and watch them respond to the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer and even the Apostles’ Creed. How much stays with them? That is unknown but by God’s grace we pray they are reminded of Him again.

Carrying this thought to my preparation for sermons and services at church I think of ways to cut through different fogs; of busyness, worry, shame, of whatever that hangs heavy in minds. What needs to be said of God to cut through this cloud; what can they be reminded of. It may not be new or particularly intellectual but powerful nevertheless is the work and words of God.

Not every sermon or every time of course but sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the basic facts of our faith; those building blocks that are foundation in some of our memories or for others on first hearing become the new framework from which they remember God in their own lives. Africa has “the big five”; we have our own “big five” to bring up those moments when God’s love, grace, mercy, judgement and faithfulness have been at work. Sometimes people just need a little push to remember.

One Comment

  1. Mark Simpson says:

    Thank you Shelly. I found that while working in dementia care as a therapist and having developed a therapeutic atmosphere and relationship especially during time in daycare service, I did my best preaching at church. This is because the atmosphere was developed through the acknowledgement of God’s presence and our activities and interactions of compassion requiring love, showing grace and mercy, being non-judgmental and faithful ourselves. Thanks again and blessings

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