Objectives: Churches and faith groups have an important role to play in the development of dementia-friendly communities; their support of spirituality of people with dementia and their care-givers adds an important dimension, interwoven with concepts of personhood and identity. Priests have a central role here, but little is known of their experiences of ministering to people with dementia and their families, of the challenges they may encounter, or of their perspective on dementia.
Method: Using a collective case-study approach, 10 Church in Wales priests took part in an in-depth qualitative interview regarding their ministry with people with dementia. Initial thematic analysis was used as a basis for an in-depth analysis of the positions adopted by clergy in relation to dementia and those experiencing it, as well as to their roles in the wider church.
Results: Clergy described discovering ways of working with people with dementia, learning ‘on the job’, and, for example, finding familiar symbols and music helpful. They found themselves being an intermediary, between people with dementia and God, but also within families and other care settings, such as care homes. Promoting spirituality within personhood was a fundamental aspect of their role, but was also reflected both in fears of dementia and in identifying redeeming aspects of dementia. They described an absence of preparedness, training and peer support for this ministry. The emerging model of Dementia ministry reflected the dynamic interplay of positions adopted by clergy, with an interface between the professional and the personal at its centre.
Conclusion: The study indicates the need for increased support for clergy in taking forward dementia friendly churches and highlights their role in ensuring that the spiritual life of people with dementia can be maintained and supported.