Dr Jennifer Bute

If you’re living with dementia, what makes you feel OK in church? Dr Jennifer Bute has been living with dementia  for 15 years and in that time she’s moved between three different locations and has settled into two different churches.  In our Zoom meeting recently she talked about the things that make a church truly dementia inclusive.

The plan was for me to interview Jennifer.  I’d gained a great deal of insight from writing her book, (Dementia from the Inside, a Doctor’s Personal Journey of Hope) with her.  It’s full of helpful information, from her own and her extensive medical perspective, and fairly sparkles with spiritual insight.

When Jennifer knew she had dementia she saw it as an opportunity for a unique ministry.  Jennifer is a change-maker and ground-breaker.   As well as the book and talks, her website  ‘gloriousopportunity’, is full of publications and videos explaining dementia, and helping  people diagnosed with it live fulfilling lives. 

As a small child she was fascinated with medicine and hospitals, and her school teacher thought she would make a good nurse.  Instead, she became one of the first female students to enrol in Bart’s Medical College, London, later becoming senior GP in a big practice in Southampton.  In 2007, she was the first woman in Hampshire  to become a Fellow of the Royal College.

I’d emailed over a list of questions  in advance, but this morning woke up with a feeble croak instead of my normal voice! I tried to persuade it  back with cups of herbal tea and honey, but it stayed stubbornly absent.  It was too late to cancel the meeting, especially as some people had booked weeks earlier.  So what to do?  Without being at all flustered, Jennifer proceeded to read out the questions and follow on with the answers.

There’s more information available on our Pilgrims’ Friend Society website, including ‘Six Key Steps For Making a Dementia Inclusive Church’.  Jennifer has also produced a 10-point booklet on her website, gloriousopportunity,  Get a copy of both!  They’ll cover everything you need to know.  The three main points are:  1) have someone from the church who has been informed about dementia act as a buddy, sitting next to the person with dementia and his/her carer;  2) ensure that they are welcomed at the door and shown to their seats, preferably at the back of the meeting where they are free to go out, if necessary, and come back without disturbing anybody, and 3) have the whole congregation/church well informed about dementia.

And, although I’m biased, it’s true to say that her book is unique and enriching.  You would not imagine that a book written by someone living with dementia, as well as giving vital understanding, could be a spiritual experience, but it is.  Get a copy here.

The Zoom meeting has been recorded: https://youtu.be/uU7lgDtBVGE


Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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