Will God still be there?
Supporting faith in later life
Championing the needs of older people
At BRF we value and serve the older members of our communities – through caring, resourcing and advocating. We work hard to champion the needs of older people – particularly those who are frail and isolated – through our Anna Chaplaincy to Older People ministry and publications like Bible Reflections for Older People, as well as books on ageing by wise and compassionate writers.
When Debbie Thrower, now BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy Pioneer, first started this ministry, as part of a local initiative in Alton, Hampshire, one of the first people she talked to was Bob Weighton. Born on 29 March 1908, Bob is officially Britain’s oldest man, at 111 (at the time of writing).
At first 'Tricia worked on Bible Reflections for Older People alongside her doctorate, sustained to meet the demands of both, she says, by 'those big questions that arise when confronted by dementia, especially in Christians who have lifetimes of service to God and their communities. What is faith in those circumstances? What does it mean to be a person made in the image of God? How does the spiritual life of someone with dementia continue, and how is that life expressed? God doesn’t give up on people – he’s still with us. Because of my theological interest – both academic and professional – I wanted to know what the Bible said about all this.'
'We need to learn to think differently'
Tricia continues: 'These are important questions for friends, family and carers, and in the early stages of dementia, for the person who has the condition. Will God still be there?
'I worked with eight people with dementia, four of whom are no longer with us. These were committed Christians who had known God all their lives, and what they taught me was that they still had a very strong sense of God being with them. In fact, they said they were closer to God than ever. They weren’t afraid of dying because they were sure they were going to be with God.'
True to her evangelical roots, 'Tricia went back to study the Bible, asking, 'What, then, does the Bible say to me about having a relationship with God, and about participating with others in the life of the Christian community? Does the Bible say that my relationship with God is over if I can no longer spell out why I believe what I believe? We need to learn to think differently.
'As the body of Christ, as we serve our fellow believers, one of our roles is to consider how we can help older people, and particularly those who are frail or who are living with dementia, to know that they are part of the body.'
'Their vulnerability is a gift to the church'
'When I focus on a person with dementia,' Tricia says, 'as I sit at their feet, perhaps in silence, perhaps holding their hand, and recognise the presence of God in that person, that is very humbling.
'I think of people who, while they can no longer have a coherent conversation, might be sparked into
'When you share communion with people who are into dementia, when there
'As we learn to serve people with dementia, as we learn to respond to them, that in itself is a gift.'