It all started a couple of years ago, when Dorothy (pictured) made an announcement in church. She’d decided that something had to happen.
I, in turn, decided that I was not the person to argue. She might look delightful in this photo, but when Dorothy decides that action is required, you sit up and listen. Believe.
‘We need to be there’
At the end of the road, 100 yards from our little church in King’s Cross, London, sits a residential home. The home’s dedicated team specialise in providing exceptional care to their residents, the majority of whom are living with dementia. Dorothy stood at the front of church with determination.
She said ‘We need to be there.’
So I agreed.
I had no clue that my assent would lead to being asked to deliver a very short-notice sermon. We turned up to a full room. I opened the Bible. Psalm 23. I read ‘The Lord is my Shepherd…’ and found my own voice drowned out as everyone joined in; a roomful of faith and Sunday School tradition echoing around it.
‘This is special,’ I thought. And every month since, this has proved to be the case.
God is present and real
The bare bones might not be much. A collection of hymns, some action songs, sermons, prayers and time for tea. Yet, by some miracle, God is present and real. In coming face to face with our limitations, and with those of each individual we seek to connect with, we are called to become more present, and indeed, more real.
In each person we’ve got to know, from those who look forward to out visit, to those who can’t tell us what they’re thinking, we’re reminded of God’s presence in times of absence. We’ve also been humbled by the grace of God in the resilient, patient care of the staff who exercise the daily gift of the restoration of dignity.
Many of us have shared prayer with those who are unable to leave their rooms and often cannot directly communicate. Such a simple gift, yet being truly present requires acknowledging our own emptiness, as we quickly come to the end of our resources in with open hands. We trust God is with us, and pray accordingly.
And so it seems, we are learning to practice the gift of presence.
We are learning to receive the gifts of grace
We are learning to negotiate solo dance displays.
We witness random acts of kindness.
We witness random acts of violence.
We sometimes sing loudly over swearing.
The power of collective memory
Has somebody, or some activity ever jolted you back to a place you thought you’d forgotten, only to be reminded of who you are? At these short services, we have found that collective memory is a strong and resilient thing, as we sing simple songs of faith and share timeless truths. It is a reminder to each other though we might not remember who we are, God does. In the words of songwriter Pierce Pettis:
‘If you start to doubt that you exist, God believes in you.’
Remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Sharing an imperfect Christmas
To make our Christmas visit special this year, we needed help. So we co-opted Church on the Corner, our partners in the local C of E team ministry. They are mainly under 30 and meet in a converted pub; they are cool like that.
However, I knew they were not too cool to sing like angels, and proved unafraid to wear Christmas knitwear in 30 degree heat. They arrived with a spirit of deep seasonal joy and a desire to connect. Comfort zones were crossed, as one generation met the other. We shared the story of the first imperfect Christmas, as we embraced our own imperfect Christmas, reminded of the God who trusted himself to humble imperfect people. We uncovered mutual gifts. I think there are more to be discovered.
We are not alone in what we do. There must be thousands of monthly services in care homes around the country. It is simplicity itself. The bare bones might not look like much, but if you’re part of something like this, you and I are in on a secret.
May it continue to bless you, as you seek to bless others.
Corin Pilling lives in King’s Cross and is proud to be part of All Saints Carnegie Street