My last seminary look-back is my capstone paper. Capstone is the exit course in which we write and present a paper on a subject we feel is an area of growth in the church and we demonstrate how seminary has prepared us to address the issue. Single spaced two page case study then five sections, five pages each to demonstrate how we incorporate Biblical Foundations, Theology and Church History into formulating a Pastoral Response on the issue and how our McAfee Experience has given us the tools to implement said response.
My capstone was titled “Faith As Shared Memory: Engaging Adults with Dementia in Church Community Life.” My Biblical Foundations were rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures Deuteronomy 6:20-24 and 32:6-8 (remembering God through our stories) with a word study of emeth/emuna used to convey the total dependability of God; and Psalm 41 (God remembering God’s people, especially in times of weakness). The Theology section focused on personhood as defined by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Plato and Aristotle and how dementia threatens to undermine certain aspects of personhood in each of their respective definitions. I concluded this section with a call for a theology of dementia:
“it is a theology that respects the fact the Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are horribly tragic and painful, but that commits to looking for hope amid the despair, for meaning in the rubble of many questions with few answers, a theology that honors faith and the fact that life is made richer, community is enhanced, God transforms lives and Christ’s presence is revealed to all of us, when we remember (and when we help those who cannot).”
My Church History section was titled Radical Compassion in Monasticism and Remembrance in Jewish Historical Thought. I traced monasticism from Anthony to Francis, to the Taize community to Jean Vanier’s efforts to bring the communal living movement into dialogue with mental illness through the formation of L’Arche communities. My Pastoral Response called for a partnership between churches and the Alzheimer’s Association for the formation of support groups and things like that, and I also proposed that we begin thinking about what worship might be like for someone with dementia. Do they know why we’ve all gathered here together? What’s with the chiclet bread and grape juice chasers?
“As we reflect one more time on the command to remember the Lord’s faithfulness, let’s imagine a worship service that takes this command seriously, and hope that the future of churches heads this way. The gathering music before worship begins is a mix of contemporary music and traditional hymns. People file into their seats, carrying the bulletins they just received at the door from one of any number of ushers of different ages, races and nationalities. They sit and begin to read the announcements and look for the Faith Through The Ages story being featured on this particular Sunday. It’s Greta Mae Larkson’s. “I LOVE her,” someone whispers as she smilingly reads Greta Mae’s story. The smile turns nostalgic and her eyes mist over. Greta Mae’s story is one of deep loss, but ends on a note of great hope as Greta relives with the church the hope she has found in God as the source of her strength. The Psalter reading for that day will be Psalm 4, the Psalm that was read at Greta Mae’s husband’s funeral about a year ago. That day, dementia thinks it claimed another victim, but Greta Mae knows that, instead, that day her husband’s pain ended and God revealed God’s self to her in the love of friends and family, and in the safety of her church community.
At the end of the service, there is a brief coffee chat time before everyone heads to class. Greta Mae is showered with hugs and kind words. The community remembers together and at the end of the day, goes home eager to come back for another day of hope, saints who fill our hearts with joy and our lives with inspiration, and the presence of God as the community remembers their beloved elders and their faithful God.”
My most helpful classes at McAfee, in equipping me to address this issue in my future ministry, whatever it might be, were Faith Development, Jesus and the Gospels and Theology and Science. At the time, it stressed the fire out of me, but I’m glad to have written this paper and to have all of my information in one document to which I can and will refer often.
My presentation was also really fun. It was a mini-sermon esque treatment of the Walk to Emmaus text in Luke 24 and a reading of Harold and the Purple Crayon. As Harold found his way into adventures with his crayon, and as Christ was made known to the two travelers in the breaking of bread, so should we help those whose memories are being threatened find new, creative and adventurous ways to experience the risen Christ.