December 5 was the concluding session of “Dementia through a Pastoral Lens” which I teach at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. It was an eventful and poignant time as students shared evaluations and insights from their fourteen weeks of academic challenges and personal engagement with people living with dementia.
I asked, “Name an insight or formational experience you will take from this course.” Among the responses are the following:
- We can’t think our way to God; God comes to us in experiences of love.
- “I became more patient.” Discipleship requires slowing down, being fully present in the moment.
- Ministry means presence more than doing. We aren’t problem solvers; we are mediators of grace.
- People with dementia are full members of the church and not mere objects of charitable ministry. They are no less faithful disciples than we are.
- Human identity and worth do not lie in capacities, intellectual or otherwise, but God’s claim upon us and our relationships in community.
- People lose their memories only if they lose community, for memory is held in community, not simply in our brains.
- The presence of the weak and vulnerable are essential for the church to be the body of Christ and faithful to its nature and mission.
- The vulnerable belong at the center of the church’s life and mission and not on the margins. Jesus shifted the margins with the outsiders becoming the insiders.
- Baptismal vows to support and nurture one another have no expiration date. The covenant extends into our frail years!
- Theology is lived more than thought.
- People with dementia teach us more than we teach or serve them.
- To love and be loved is to know God, whether we can cognitively comprehend or verbally articulate thoughts about God.
During a “commissioning”the students assumed the following vows:
Will you be intentional in ministering with people affected by dementia, especially those with the disease, their loved ones, and those who care for them?
I will, with God’s help
Will you be present with people with dementia, learn their stories, receive their gifts, and enter their worlds?
With God’s help, I will seek to be an extension of the Incarnation
Will you relate to each person with dementia as a unique, precious child of God, made in the divine image, whose personhood and worth are in their identity in Christ?
By God’s grace, I will relate to each person with dignity, respect, and love as a brother or sister in Christ.
Will you honor the persons with dementia as fellow disciples and nurture their ministries with support, guidance, and access to the means of grace, including the Sacraments?
With the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit, I will honor them as colleagues in Christ’s ministry and among the priesthood of all believers.
Will you seek to form congregations in which people with dementia and their families truly belong as equal participants and members of the body of Christ?
With God’s help, I will seek to order the life of the congregation to be the body of Christ, reflecting the unconditional love of Christ for ALL people.
The students received special stoles provided by Lynda Everman and Don Wendorf who have developed the marvelous “stole ministry” as outlined in the book, Stolen Memories.
This book can be ordered on Amazon; 100% of sales support the work of the network, ClergyAgainstAlzheimer’s (order here).
Bishop Carder, This class was such a wonderful experience! It will make me a better pastor as I deal with those who have dementia. Thank you so much for sharing your and Linda’s journey with us and so many others! Your experience is such a gift to others who are travelling a similar road. God bless you as you begin to live into your new normal.
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Thank you, Alston, for your kind remarks and for your contribution to the class.
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