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Conference - It's still ME, Lord

In the inspiring surroundings of St Francis Xavier Church in Liverpool more than 60 people gathered on 2nd October to hear about and discuss parishes and deaneries as communities of welcome for people with dementia and their carers. The day was sponsored by Caritas Social Action Network ( as well as by the 'Welcome Me as I Am' project. The day started with a welcome from Bishop Tom Williams, Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Liverpool who reminded us of the importance of pastoral care for people with dementia from both a personal and pastoral perspective. We then split into small groups to discuss our parish and deanery communities in relation to 'dementia friendly' Churches and we heard about a variety of initiatives and ideas in which parishes are becoming more inclusive, for example through developing Carers Support Groups.

In his keynote address: 'The hidden grace of dementia' Fr Daniel O'Leary talked about the 'urgent need for ‘person-work’, for a care-filled reverence in this fragile world of the soul'. He reminded us of the 'inner shrine' - 'Staying true to the principles of Incarnation, it is through the senses that the inner shrine is reached. They are the thresholds to the soul. The graciousness of the carer’s eyes – windows out and windows in; the touch of the friend’s hands – extensions of the heart; the dignity of the helper’s composure - the body betrays the inner state of the soul; the dignity of the carer’s voice, the radiance from her physical presence, the real reverence for the mystery of the other.' For a full version of his talk click here.

Bishop Richard Moth, Bishop for the Armed Forces and lead Bishop for mental health and dementia related issues, reminded us of the importance of parishes as welcoming and inclusive places for people with a dementia as well as for their carers. He illustrated his talk with examples from his earlierministry in parishes and hospitals. He described his satisfaction with the various initiatives being taken at parish level and asked participants to send their ideas and experiences on good practice to Gail Sainsbury, Project Officer for the Bishops Conference Mental Health Reference Group at

In the afternoon there were a number of workshop sessions. Polly Kaiser, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Founder of the Life Story Network, talked about the importance of understanding and hearing the 'spiritual story',particularly as dementia advances, and the place for this work in parish communities as well as with inidividuals and their loved ones. (For more information on life story work see

Edna Hunneysett who has set up and facilitated Carers Support Groups in the Diocese of Middlesbrough, spoke about her experiences and the ways in which support groups can a real source of spiritual nourishment as well as support to those involved in caring. Finally, Ben Bano, Director of 'Welcome Me as I am'. shared his experiences alongside those of members of the group in dementia friendly prayer and liturgy - click here for a copy of the key points made in the workshop.

After the workshop Ben said: 'I am so pleased that this Conference has been an opportunity to network and share our thoughts on good practice in welcoming and including people with dementia and their carers in our parishes. There is a growing interest in 'dementia friendly' churches and the ideas discussed today, together with the spiritual and theological framework put forward by Fr Daniel, provides an ideal opportunity to make our Church Communities genuinely 'dementia friendly'.

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