For Christians who have dementia, even quite advanced, Christmas Carol Services can be a great blessing. Their minds may have forgotten that it is Christmas time, or even what it means, but the Holy Spirit within them hasn’t. And the emotions associated with Christmas, often laid down over decades of worship and celebration, remain. Psalm 42 talks about ‘deep calling to deep’, and the carols and liturgy can evoke deep blessings. A former nurse who had cared for several years for her husband with dementia at home, told me how her church helped her him attend his last Carol Service. ‘They managed to get a ramp for his wheelchair, so we could get him up the steps, and we had a taxi that could take wheelchairs,’ she said. ‘He wasn’t speaking or anything by then, but I could tell that he knew he was in church. I could see how happy it made him.’
Here are a few tips for Carol Services that include people with dementia – and hopefully, that will be all of them!
- Choose older carols that are well known
- The Bible Society has published a free resource booklet with 10 well known carols. It’s an excellent idea and savings having to find the way through a hymn book. https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/get-involved/christmas/carol-sheet-a/
- Alternatively, your church could project the words on to the big screen.
- It’s best if the service is not too long or unpredictable.
- Keep to the familiar service. It’s the experience of the church in Suffolk (featured in our booklet, 6 Key Steps to Making a Dementia Friendly church) that people with dementia often are still able to follow the liturgy.
- If there is a sermon, it’s best to make it short and with one main point that can be remembered.
If you’re thinking of having a candle lit service, consider a well lit section for people with dementia. They usually need plenty of light to see clearly, and shadows from flickering candles can be confusing. And think about putting fluorescent tape along the edge of steps.
On our website is a little booklet, called ‘Christmas Friendship & Loneliness: Starting and Sustaining Conversations Resource.’ (https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/pages/search.aspx?q=Christmas%20Conversations).