Glen Ellyn Church offers services for those with memory loss

Publish Date:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

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Daily Herald

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The First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn's Worship for the Soul service and ministry offers spiritual comfort to those with Alzheimer's disease and other types of memory loss.

In the fall of 2005, Rachelle Blough, a senior program manager of Sunrise Senior Living, envisioned a specialized worship service that recognized the spiritual needs of those with dementia.

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The service would allow for worship in a failure-free environment within a church setting, and individuals would be safe should disease symptoms such as yelling out, getting up, or walking around occur in the midst of worship.

"Having worked with seniors with dementia for 10 years, I have witnessed firsthand the profound response from people in middle to late stages of dementia when they hear a familiar hymn or Bible verse, or are in the presence of church organ music or stained glass. I find this to be a critical way to connect with one's personhood," said Mary Shafer, Sunrise's activities and volunteer coordinator.

Shafer began calling churches in the Glen Ellyn area to find a church willing to offer this type of specialized service. The Rev. Bob Lesher, a retired Lutheran minister serving as the visitation pastor at First United Methodist of Glen Ellyn, had a passion for serving the elderly and recognized the need to offer spiritual comfort to those with memory loss.

Lesher and Shafer developed the worship program and attended Deacon Virginia Rainey's training, "Called to Remember: Providing Spiritual Comfort to Those with Alzheimer's Disease."

With Marsha Webster as the accompanist, the first service was held Nov. 6, 2005, with about 10 people in attendance. Now, more than 40 people gather at First United Methodist at 10:30 a.m. the third Wednesday of the month to experience Worship for the Soul.

"(First United Methodist) has been the perfect setting for this ministry because of their stained glass windows, pews and organ. Our sanctuary creates a familiar environment that is comforting to those with memory loss," Shafer said. "The sights, sounds and even smells of worship can engage deep memories."

Each 30-minute service consists of singing just the first verse of four or five familiar hymns such as "Amazing Grace." Also included are "The Lord's Prayer" and a familiar Bible passage, such as Psalm 23. Over the years, each clergy person has had his or her own approach, offering traditional communion, individual prayer or other tactile lessons that help stimulate the senses.

Longtime church member Pat Johansen became a part of Worship for the Soul after being invited. Johansen's passion for serving the elderly developed after caring for her own mother who lived in a nursing home.

"I saw a need and I realized I could help," she said.

Johansen added hospitality and fellowship to the service by managing a refreshment hour after worship.

During the Glen Ellyn church's 2008 renovation, Worship for the Soul was able to continue by temporarily relocating to Sunrise and attendance increased significantly. Since moving back to the newly renovated church sanctuary, more area Sunrise communities are attending services as well.

"I love how First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn has embraced this service and ministry to individuals with memory loss for eight years now," Shafer said.

"No matter who has been pastor — not only do the songs, verses and prayers mean so much to our residents, but (so do) the personal touch and kind hearts of those at FUMC-GE that we are in contact with on a monthly basis."

The Wednesday services are open to the community for caregivers and loved ones with dementia. For information, visit www.gefumc.org/music/worship-for-the-soul/.

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