Belfast Telegraph

Dementia-friendly Coleraine church service a first

Ecumenical event aimed at sufferers and families

William McCandless (far right) has organised a service for dementia sufferers to be attended by church members and families on Maundy Thursday
William McCandless (far right) has organised a service for dementia sufferers to be attended by church members and families on Maundy Thursday
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

An ecumenical dementia-friendly service is to be held in a Coleraine parish church on Maundy Thursday.

The service for sufferers, family members and other carers will be held in St Patrick's Church of Ireland in the town centre at 2.30pm.

The worship will contain traditional hymns, readings and prayers which may be familiar to many of the dementia sufferers taking part.

It is being organised by Ulster Unionist Causeway Coast and Glens councillor William McCandless in association with the Alzheimer's Society.

Mr McCandless is the rector's churchwarden at St Patrick's.

His brother Roy is suffering from the early stages of dementia.

He said: "I know other people in the fellowship who also have relatives and friends with dementia, and I know that some of the people affected tend to become a bit disturbed or uneasy when they are in public places.

"There are some family members who tend to keep their loved ones at homes in case they feel uneasy outside their familiar surroundings, and therefore we want to help them to integrate at a public event like this.

"The idea of the special service next Thursday is to help put these people at their ease, and if some of them become a little disturbed or uncertain as the service continues, we have volunteers who will take them to the quiet atmosphere of the choir vestry where they will be able to regain their composure.

"They might even be happy to return to the service."

He added: "The scale of dementia in society is a ticking time-bomb, and we need to make more and more people aware of it.

"There are more than 850,000 people in the UK known to be suffering from dementia but we believe that the real figure is much higher, and that the numbers are set to rise alarmingly over the next 30 years.

"We are aware that dementia symptoms can affect thinking, the ability to communicate, and memory, yet each person's experience will be slightly different.

"By showing understanding, offering support, and making minor adjustments to the service in St Patrick's, it will be possible to help someone suffering from dementia to continue to worship in a church.

"As Christians we believe that we are made in the image of God, and anyone who is suffering from dementia is no less valued as a person and no less loved by God.

"The Church has a duty to help those living with dementia to keep their church connection as a part of their identity because their faith is an essential part of their life.

"The Coleraine service will also provide an opportunity for families and carers to enjoy fellowship and to realise they are not alone."

This is the first service of its kind in the Coleraine area. Mr McCandless is hoping that up to 200 people, and maybe even more, will take part.

He is also hoping that there will be enough support established to make a similar service a monthly event. "I would be delighted if the idea would be taken up by churches not only in the Coleraine area but right across the province," he added.

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