4 trends in building successful communities of care

By Joe LaGuardia

In a recent joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and RTI International, researchers Erin Long, Sari Shuman, et. al. explored five inter-faith communities that provide care for loved ones suffering with dementia and their caregivers.

Their research, entitled “Faith-Related Programs in Dementia Care, Support, and Education,” summarizes best practices in religious support for families and caregivers and tips on how to build strong, sustainable communities of care.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the research highlights four trends that make for successful communities of care.

1.  Faith adds to well-being.  Faith-based communities provide benefits for dementia care and caregivers.  As our research here at A Tapestry of Love affirms, faith-based communities provide countless benefits to caregivers and their loved ones.  As Long and Shuman, et. al., note, “Studies have shown that spirituality and religious activity may provide relief from anxiety, reduced behavioral disturbances, and improved quality of life for people with dementia” (Long and Shuman, 3).

Yet, they also affirm that religious activity wanes over time because of the declining health of loved ones.  We too, found that to be a problem: The longer a caregiver and her loved one stay home, the fewer cards, visits, and invitations to activities take place over time.

Faith-based communities of care, however, can close the gap for caregivers and their families who need solace, support, and ongoing professionalized care.  Communities can provide, for instance, intentional programs that increase health and wellness, support groups, educational workshops, and spiritual practices that promote faith and discipleship.

Caregivers provide hours of care to loved ones; houses of worship must be intentional to either meet their needs or work with others to help provide support and resources along the journey of faith.

2.   Collaboration promotes sustainable support.  Faith-based communities that collaborate are sustainable and successful in prolonging and providing support.  Those providing support for caregivers and their families–and churches that seek to do the same–cannot go it alone.  Of all five communities in Long and Shuman’s research, each one collaborated with other churches, non-profits, and government agencies for volunteer training, grant and fundraising awareness, space usage, resource allocation, and diversified support.

When it comes to caring for families, churches need to reach out to one another and even other faith groups for support.  In some instances, one church provided space for a program, while other churches in the area provided volunteers.  Local associations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, provided educational resources to train volunteers, and caregivers.

Collaboration also promotes a wider participation from the community, including promotion of events and workshops, as well as little things that make a difference, such as providing transportation for loved ones and their families to get to support groups and the community.  In one instance, a local taxi service provided subsidized transportation to and from the community center.

As resources are few and quality volunteers limited, it is in the best interest that faith-based communities seek collaborative models for caring for all God’s children in their local area.

3.  Space assures sacred and safe interactions.  Another successful aspect of dementia and caregiver care was the devotion to a specific space for support and programming.  Some of the institutions that were a part of the study had stand-alone spaces, while others found sites that provided space.

Whether it is stand-alone or a partnership, having a safe and devoted space for care and support assures safety and sacred interactions.  This is especially important with people with dementia: Routine and predictability promote well-being, and having a space that is familiar allows for people to feel comfortable and welcomed.

Having a devoted space also allows for ongoing education and volunteer training.  Volunteers work within the confines of a manageable area, know all of the resources that are at hand, and value having a meeting place where they can interact with people who need room to grow, be, and live out their calling as caregivers or care receivers.

Stand-alone facilities, though difficult to come by, are optimal for this type of ministry.  The researchers noted that one community, the Amazing Place in Houston, Texas, boasts a 13,700-square foot building that includes a chapel, art studio, game room, kitchen, conference and training rooms, sitting areas, and a courtyard.  This was made possible by a dream from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston and the church’s willingness to work with non-profits and other faith groups in the area to secure the space, funding, and the 250 volunteers needed to run the full-time effort.

4.  Faith, Collaboration, and Sacred Space enhance creative engagement.  Creative engagement with loved ones emerge when we put faith to work, collaborate with others, and devote a sacred space to care and support others.  Although many communities provide basic services–fellowship meals, chapel services, and support groups–these trends lend themselves to other creative ventures:

  • A writer’s workshop can help dementia patients find creative avenues to tell their story and leave a written legacy for loved ones.
  • A movie or film night with caregivers can promote new ways of seeing their role as caregivers and can encourage intentional conversations about the promises or perils of the caregiving life.
  • Caregiver workshops can provide much-needed resources for self-care, grief support, or caregiver empowerment.
  • Webinars can expand the promotional base of a ministry, as well as provide ongoing education to the community at large.

As communities continue to experience ministry to those suffering from dementia and the caregivers who help serve that most vulnerable population, it will be increasingly important for faith-based support services to reach out in ever creative ways.  Research shows that support services make a difference.  Faith, collaboration, sacred space, and creative engagement only bolster the type of resources that make for a great, well-rounded community of care.

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A sermon on Psalm 22 and the Geography of the Soul

By Joe LaGuardia

Here at the Tapestry blog and the ministries Daphne and I run, we encourage people to pray the psalms.  In fact, our prayer life follows the rhythm of seasons of life and the journey of a faith lived out in a mix of uncertainty and deep abiding faith often exhibited in the psalms.

Did you know that there is a “geography of the soul,” a pattern of contours that follow our highs and lows, joys and sorrows.  But what does this geography look like?  How do we read the maps and the signs of the Spirit’s presence in our life?

I had the privilege of preaching on the geography of the soul at Trinity Baptist Church last month.  Perhaps you will find encouragement in the words of hope of Psalm 22–an unlikely source for victory and a blueprint for navigating the interior space of our soul.

Hope-filled Prayers for Spirit-filled living

child-praying

By Joe LaGuardia

I enjoy listening to my children pray.  My seven-year old son started praying regularly just this last season of Lent (it was his commitment for Lent in preparation for his baptism come Easter day).

His prayers are unlike any I’ve ever heard.  Usually, people start their prayers with, “Lord, we ask…” or “Lord, please…”.

Not my son.  He begins every sentence with, “I hope….”

“I hope my mother gets home safely this evening.  I hope that tomorrow is a good day.  I hope that we get to play outside this weekend and there’s no rain.”

I think we need to learn something from him.  We too should approach God full of hope.  We have hope in our hearts, but we can also express hope in our prayers too.  It would make for more honest prayer, that’s for sure.

Hope is appropriate for prayer because it is the substance of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  When we express our hopes to God, we bear witness to our faith that God is in control of our life and our purpose in the future.

Whether my son knows it or not, when he tells God of all the things for which he hopes, he is declaring his faith in God’s providential wisdom.  I realize he is not that theological, but there is a reason why Jesus let the little children come unto him.

It is because children are honest in their prayers, and we need to learn from them.

Even those who grieve or face hardship may express hope in a prayer to God.  “We do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul wrote to the churches in Thessalonica, “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Yes, we grieve; but, we do so with hope that God will make all things right in the end (and the new beginning!) of time.  We hope even in our longing and desperation for God’s creation to be made new and whole.

Psalm 4 encourages prayer warriors to trust and hope in God in all situations: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent.  Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (verses 4-5).

To me, this verse balances quiet contemplation (we must think about our hopes and dreams and express them to God), with holy action (we respond to God by offering our very lives as living sacrifices, putting all our eggs in God’s basket).

Like my son, we are to pray often with the phrase, “I hope!”, and we can take all things to God in prayer:

“I hope You will give me strength and heal me of this cancer.”
“I hope that I will feel your presence during this time of uncertainty.”
“I hope that my children will be safe today.”
“I hope that I can be courageous in my compassion towards those in need or those who are on the margins.”
“I hope You give me a spirit of forgiveness to reconcile with my enemies today.”

I know it is a leap to go from hoping to seeing the requests of our prayers come true, but we have to start somewhere — and honesty is the best way to go.

In another letter to a group of churches, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

May our prayers this week be filled with hope, that trust may replace anxiety, assurance replace uncertainty, and holiness replace paralysis.