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God in Fragments: Worshipping with those living with dementia, by Robert Atwell, et al

14 August 2020

Louise Morse reads papers about dementia

THIS book is the result of the Liturgical Commission conference, April 2017, whose focus was on “creating accessible worship for people living with dementia”. All six authors attended and have contributed a chapter sharing “the fruit”, each looking at a different aspect, and building on their previous experience.

An afterword, by Sam Wells, tells the story of how his church discovered why a member with dementia was an angry “single-issue fanatic”. She was helped to speak at a “dementia evening”, and told of her upbringing and what was important to her. ‘‘I want people to understand that I’m still me. I still have a sense of self and my own rights,” she said. Wells saw the part of the church in listening and understanding the person with dementia: “how awesome is the sight,” he wrote.

There is a compendium at the back with summaries of each chapter and a topic index, essential inclusions as the book includes so many practical and theological topics.

Julia Burton-Jones looks at aspects of worship which might be challenging for people with dementia, and how to overcome them. She describes “Godly Play for Elders”, an approach centred on the educational work of Maria Montessori, and developed by Jerome Berryman, and “Messy Church” together with case studies.

David Richardson offers advice for making and maintaining a dementia-friendly church, noting that key is to designate a member to take the lead on dementia matters. Sue Moore writes about music and its value for people with dementia: there is growing awareness of this.

Joanna Collicutt asks how spiritual awareness is affected by dementia. She acknowledges that spiritual life can continue for people who are no longer cognitively able to do spirituality in the sense in which we normally understand t, as man “seeking that which involves self-transcendence”, though I observe that many still view “spirituality” as meaning the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which Jesus describes in John 14.17.

Creating accessible worship for people living with dementia is not only central to the values of the gospel: “it is a unique opportunity to witness to human dignity in an age that idolizes the young and the beautiful, often at the expense of older people in the community,” Robert Atwell comments, in his compassionate chapter.

The book is a bit like a box of Lego. Whether you are building from scratch or want to add to what you already know or do, you’ll probably find it here.


Louise Morse is a cognitive behavioural therapist and author of several books on dementia.


God in Fragments: Worshipping with those living with dementia
Robert Atwell, Joanna Collicutt, Julia Burton-Jones, David Richardson, Sue Moore, and Matthew Salisbury
Church House Publishing £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.99

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