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Book review: God’s Not Forgotten Me: Experiencing faith in dementia by Tricia Williams

by
23 June 2023

Anne Holmes reviews research into the faith of those with dementia

THE title of this book sums up the collective experience of those whom Tricia Williams interviewed for her research. Encountering Alice, Bill, David, Jess, Jill, Matthew, Ron, and Rosemary through their recorded comments is a profound experience, challenging any conscious or unconscious bias towards full cognitive functioning on the part of the reader. This author was ably supported in her doctoral research and in the writing of this book by John Swinton, and her meticulously referenced contribution to practical theology deserves to be read widely.

Each chapter explores a core theme to have emerged from the interviews with the participants and the reflection and biblical connections offered by Williams. Many are to do with faith and identity in the context of dementia: “Faith in Dementia?”, “Who I Am”, “Walking Through Shadow”, “Growing Faith”, “Walking Together”. There are questions for reflection at the end of each chapter.

Williams has focused on those in Evangelical church settings with their emphasis on propositional truth. How are those in cognitive decline to be accommodated in such a context? What emerges from the interviews is the power of faith memory and a deep sense of being loved by God and accompanied by Jesus. This relational trust gives hope to those who were able to speak of their experience in the early stages of the disease. Comfort is found in remembered Bible passages and hymns.

Faith deepens despite difficult times, as Brueggemann’s model of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation is drawn on substantially. As Williams puts it, “While the traditional practice of daily, sequential Scripture reading is becoming more difficult for the participants, the Word in their hearts is funding their ongoing remembrance of God and bringing growth.”

The final chapter of this compelling book encourages church communities to support, encourage, and enable the spiritual growth of those with, or close to those with, dementia. Could other faith communities learn from this? Christian traditions with a focus on liturgy and the sacraments might usefully be researched, as the senses are routinely nourished. On the evidence of this study, there is scope for theological reflection on whether faith is deeper than the intellect.
 

The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist and SSM in the diocese of Oxford.

 

God’s Not Forgotten Me: Experiencing faith in dementia
Tricia Williams
Cascade Books £21.99
(978-1-7252-7216-3)
Church Times Bookshop £19.79

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