I didn’t think that there really had been a lady called Eleanor Rigby – the one the Beatles sang about, who ‘died in the church and was buried along with her name’. But on Saturday I saw her gravestone in the grounds of the beautiful old church in Liverpool, St Peter’s, Woolton, that John Lennon used to attend.
Revd Paul Holt was standing with Janet and me in the graveyard in the bright, wintry sunshine looking at her name, Eleanor Rigby, which is actually set into the Rigby family’s larger gravestone. So, no, she hadn’t been a lonely lady at all. John had used poetic licence and made that bit up. (Who can blame him? Doesn’t ‘Eleanor Rigby’ have a rhythm about it that lends itself to a song?) And no, there hadn’t been a Father Mackenzie who wrote the words of a sermon that no-one would come to hear. Probably didn’t darn his socks in the night, either, when no-one was near.
But Eleanor and Father MacKenzie would be delighted with what’s happening at St. Peter’s today, and neither would have the time to be lonely. St Peter’s is a thriving church that’s packed each Sunday and busy every day of the week with a whole range of community activities, from toddlers to teenagers and all stops in between, including supporting families caring for loved ones with dementia. Paul is coordinator of the pastoral care teams, and he’d invited us to take a day’s training on the practical and spiritual aspects of the work.
We knew it was going to be a good day from the moment we stepped out of our cars and said hello to a steady stream of people going through the old church gates with big smiles and trays of home cooked food. That was for lunch, they told us. These were the team leaders who, together with Paul and the hugely empathetic Vicar, Kip, shared the day with us. We’d hoped that the sessions could be interactive, and we were not disappointed! Everyone was lively and engaged, very enquiring and ‘with it’. They clearly knew what they were doing and wanted to do it even better. At one point when a smiling Kip indicated that a participant might like to sit back down she said, ‘I’m talking! I’m talking!’ We loved it.
The workshop was planned to cover what dementia is, and what it isn’t, the changes it brings to the person and to family life, and the circles of support needed. Also, the changes that people with dementia experience and how it affects their behaviour, and how to do ‘soul talk’ – how to hear the person hidden behind the dementia and how to meet their needs, both practical and spiritual.
We also looked at how to make a dementia ‘empowered’ church, which is one that is not just passively friendly but reaches out to people with dementia and their families. I described the daughter’s search for a church where her father would be accepted. After a few tries they went to one where the pastor was speaking that Sunday on how we believers are pilgrims here, all on our way Home. At the sound of ’Home’ her father shouted out, ‘Home, Home on the Range!’ and without missing a beat the pastor turned to the music group and asked them to play it. They did, and everyone was blessed, especially the Dad and his daughter. Finally we looked at what it means to minister spiritually and psychologically. Thinking about it, the ‘Home on the Range’ moment is an example of both.
Talking about it this morning, Janet and I said that just thinking of St Peter’s and Paul, and Kip and the team lifts our hearts. They’re not passive listeners, they are out there, doing it, giving their time and talents and being a blessing. Father Mackenzie would be so glad. And Eleanor Rigby must be dancing a little jig. Go team, Go!