Camp site, New WineIt’s called New Wine, the two week Christian event that takes place at Shepton Mallet each year, but ‘Sparkling Champagne’ might be a better name for it.  Thousands of people camp out in church groups and families at the fields at the Royal Bath & West Showground and they don’t seem to mind even when it rains.  The whole thing is so superbly organised, it runs as smoothly as silk.  It’s two weeks of Christians coming together to worship, learn, share and generally enjoy the Lord Jesus, and this year it simply sparkled.   We felt the buzz in the Market Place, where we had a stand with resources for Christians who want to help older people.

This year we were busy – and blessed – the whole time.  Busy as people come along for the resources we have on hand and to ask for advice on a whole range of issues to do with old age, from how to deal with a stubborn parent to ‘could it be dementia?’

Janet Jacob answering questions
Janet Jacob answering questions

And we are so blessed by the things they share with us.   Our aim is to partner with churches and others who are helping older people, and we were so encouraged to hear how our ministry is helping them in theirs.  An example was the Vicar from the South who said he’d heard our talk on ‘Empowering and Engaging Older People’ a couple of years ago, bought the CD, listened again, and drew out the main points –  then gave a talk in his church.  Over 30 people responded and now the church has an active group of over 55s who are both engaged and empowered, and are organising all kinds of things, including special interest groups for cycling, photography, art and so on.  Visitors also tell us how our books and booklets have helped.  ‘It did just that’ said a woman pointing to Dementia: Pathways to Hope, ‘it gave me hope.’  ‘That helped me understand so much,’ said another about the booklet, ‘Visiting People with Dementia.’

We love hearing stories of ‘break-throughs’ in dementia, when the person suddenly appears through the fog and is themselves again for a few minutes.  It’s called ‘rementing’, and the fact that it happens throws the whole paradigm of medical understanding up in the air (Professor Tom Kitwood, Dementia Reconsidered). It also shows that the person remains, and that the Holy Spirit is with him or her, helping others to communicate at a deep, eternal level.

A nurse told us about an old pastor with dementia, in a care home, who began to walk up a corridor towards residents’ rooms.  Worried that he might go into the rooms, a carer warned a nurse to turn him back, but as she reached him the pastor turned and said, ‘We’ve both got jobs to do – let’s get on with it, ’ and continued to walk along the corridor, stopping to pray outside each door.  And there was the daughter who described how her mother had become bed-bound and unable to speak.  ‘One day I decided to go and tell her how grateful I was for everything she had done for me,’ she said.  ‘She was just lying there with her eyes closed, and I had such a long list of things to thank her for.  After a while she said, ‘Did I really do all that!?’’  Another daughter said that in the deepest dementia, when her mother seemed to be totally ‘gone’, she would sit alongside holding her hand, reading the Bible or singing a hymn. ‘And when I did that her whole face would light up, and she would smile,’ she told us.

These stories, and others like them are like bubbles of light in a dark place.  We want to say a big thank you to New Wine for making a place where people can come and share them.

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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