It’s all in the story: Pastoral and spiritual support in aged care

Adrienne Inch knows the power of storytelling.As we age, it is normal to question our life’s purpose and meaning. For residents at Juniper, a Uniting Church WA agency providing aged care, this becomes even more prevalent.

In her role as Team Leader of Pastoral and Spiritual Care at Juniper, Adrienne Inch supports people as they work through these thoughts, and more. 

Juniper provides community, retirement living and residential aged care services to people all over the state. But it is in residential care that the Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team work. The twelve staff on the team not only lead and arrange worship services for the sites, but also provide one-on-one pastoral care for residents and their families, as well as staff at the facilities. Adrienne also provides volunteer training for people who want to support the work of the team. 

Adrienne explained one of the first things they do with supporting residents in their pastoral care is through a process of assessment designed to get to know who they are and where they find meaning in life. The assessment asks questions around religious beliefs, but also about their hobbies, family life, and where they find joy and meaning.

“We have to understand what the pastoral care needs of the residents are. And that comes through a process of getting to know them,” she said.

“If people are Christians that’s fairly straightforward – we know a bit about them, though everyone’s faith is different. We have people of all denominations, and we have a few people of other religious beliefs.

“The growing group is the group of people who say they don’t have any religion, or they were once part of a religion and they’re not anymore.

“We do a pastoral and spiritual assessment to understand what the needs are, and that’s made-up of several things. We find different ways of asking people ‘what gives meaning and purpose to your life?’ And not everyone has a Christian point of view.

“We see spirituality as a fairly broad concept about meaning and purpose, and who and what you’re connected to.”

For older people, grief can become a big part of life – as past grief begins to resurface, or as people experience more and more loss as they age.

“Sometimes people have grief from the past that still might need resolution,” Adrienne said.

“People won’t tell you everything in the first conversation. This information, you acquire over time, because people aren’t going to share their deepest secrets with you straight away.

“But you might discover they had a child who died in childhood, or a sister or brother who died, or a parent who died young.

“Particularly of the older generation, people weren’t always that aware of grief – people just had to get on with their lives. So sometimes when they’re older and have more time to think about it, then they revisit the events of their lives.”

It is when talking to people about their lives in this way that residents begin to open up and tell their stories.

“They have fascinating stories. People say, ‘oh I haven’t done much in my life’, and then tell you they’ve lived through WWII, they’ve lived through the depression, had next to no money, they did this and that – amazing stuff,” Adrienne said.

“Some of the stories are just amazing, the things people have done and survived.

“In that reminiscence with them, you can ask them questions or reinforce the significance of their lives. Clearly they made meaning out of their lives even when they were in very difficult circumstances.”

For people who are living with dementia, or who are non-cognitive, this process can become more challenging. However, there are other ways of connecting, such as sitting and talking with the family, or using symbolism.

Adrienne said there are a number of ways to strike up conversation with residents, which go beyond chatting about the weather.

“If you and I meet friends in the street, inevitably the weather is the first part of the conversation. It’s like an opening ritual,” she said. 

“When you’re talking to people in residential aged care, they live in an airconditioned environment and while they do enjoy time outside, the weather is not always the best way to start a conversation, you have to find other ways to do this.

“So, I say to our volunteers, use the environment that you’re in, even what people are wearing. If you go into people’s rooms, observe what’s in the room – I spent a couple of hours with a man once who told me all about the photos on his wall. 

“Find something immediate that you can talk about: How was lunch today? Or how was church for you today?

“Everybody benefits from talking. 

“One of the most fascinating things I like to ask is ‘what was your first paying job?’ One lady wrapped chocolate in a chocolate factory in England, someone else worked for bookbinders and her job was to lay the paper out and take it into the room where the men bound them – it was all done by hand.

“They’ve got fascinating stories, amazing stories, and people come from all over the world.” 

As is throughout religion and spirituality, symbolism and rituals become extremely important

in this aged care environment – particularly for people with dementia or who have limited-cognitive.

The Juniper Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team lead regular church services in the facilities, which are interdenominational and general.

The team also arrange for religious leaders from local churches or worship places to visit and conduct specific sacred rituals, such as communion.

“People can’t always express verbally what’s important to them, but if you set-up a cross and you have hymns, people have the sense that they’re in a church service,” Adrienne said.

“We have a number of Catholic residents, so we try and connect with the local Catholic church, so the priest can come in and give communion to the residents.

“Particularly people with memory loss, if they see a priest wearing his collar they know what that is, they can connect.

“Finding the emotional and spiritual needs can be a challenge if people can’t communicate with you. It takes time.”

While Juniper is a Christian agency of the Uniting Church WA, residents of the facilities come from all sorts of backgrounds and religion, including no religion. It is not the job of the pastoral care team to evangelise people to Christianity, but to support people in their own journeys and facilitate the religious and spiritual rituals that are requested.

“Our work is in response to the residents. We’re not there to put up the flag for Christians, our role is to respond to who is there and what they’re looking for and how they want to be supported. We do what we can to support them in the best possible  way that we can,” Adrienne said. 

“We’re not classically evangelical, we’re not here to convert everybody before they die. We’re here to support them and connect them to what is important to them.

“That’s not to say we don’t get to share our faith.

“The team create a Christian community in the facility, and that has really been very helpful for people to feel encouraged in their faith. People like what happens and its fairly informal, but it does have formality to do with church.

“We try and involve the residents in the church services. Residents read the Bible readings, or come and light the candle. Some of them can’t, but where we can we encourage them to participate.

“Services with people with dementia always have to be fairly flexible. People can come and go, walk-in and out, people call-out. You just have to be flexible because you’re never quite sure what people are going to say or do next; they lose some of their inhibitions.”

Again, Adrienne said that stories are a powerful medium for communication and connection.

“Stories are the best way to communicate meaning,” she said.

“We use the Uniting Church Lectionary, so stories are often the best way, rather than trying to tackle complicated theology.

“We do have people sitting in the room who are very cognitive, so we can’t make it childish. We need to draw a line between simple for people to understand, but  not childish.

“It needs to be adult and stimulating for people who are cognitive and who have been going to church all their life.” 

As many residents age into the end of life, pastoral and spiritual care can turn to supporting people through grief, loss and dying. A lot of this is done with the residents themselves, but also with their families and the staff who have been caring for them.

When deaths occur, funerals and memorial services are held to honour and celebrate people’s lives – residents, staff and family are all invited to attend.

“We’ve developed a number of resources that we use, as we deal a lot with grief and dying,” Adrienne said.

“Quite a bit of our work is with family members who are coming to visit, and you get to know some of them too. It’s not easy for people to watch their loved ones deteriorate and die.

“Some of my team have done things particularly for staff – the staff get very connected to the residents.

“End of life support is really quite important. Although people are old and we expect them to die, it’s still difficult.

“When they’re gone, it’s difficult. It’s still a major event for people. It’s still a loss.”

A huge part of sharing in people’s stories in pastoral and spiritual care is active listening.

“Talk therapy is the best therapy, that’s the bread and butter of what we do,” Adrienne said. 

“I think that listening is a spiritual gift because it’s so rare to be honest. We’re not good listeners, generally speaking. We all want to tell our own story, which is fine, but we’re not that great at sitting and listening.

“When I do volunteer training, I say to people to observe their listening through the week. And when they come back, they often say ‘I’m a terrible listener.’

“When you’re sitting with friends, that’s fine. But if you want to be an intentional listener then you need to hold your own story and focus on what the person is telling you. Help them to explore their own story – that’s what we do here.”

For Adrienne, working in pastoral care in an aged care environment is more than a job – it gives meaning to her own life. “There’s something about being with vulnerable people that connects you with your own vulnerability,” she said.

“When I think about the gospel, Jesus was someone who spent time with vulnerable people – that’s pretty clear.

“Aged care is not for everyone. You need patience, you need to be able to listen, accept and love people as they are.

“Over time you learn how to go with what is – where people are in the moment.

“I find their lives and stories fascinating, just amazing. If I can do something to help in their last few years to make it as good as it can be, then that’s a great thing  to be doing – that’s a great ministry and a great service to  be involved in.”

Want to get involved?

Juniper’s Pastoral and Spiritual Care Team welcomes volunteers, who assist in a range of ways. Volunteers help bring residents  to and from church, provide music, help with activities, and provide one-on-one conversation with residents.

Volunteer training will be happening in the new year. To find out more get in touch  with Adrienne at adrienne.inch@juniper.org.au

Heather Dowling

Stolen Generations memorial installed

On Wednesday 24 November Stolen Generations survivors, family and supporters including City of Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas, gathered at Moort ak Waadiny – Wellington Square, East Perth for the ‘soft launch’ of the new Stolen Generations memorial ‘Mia Mias’. Artist Sandra Hill, an Elder and custodian of the Wadandi people, and Stolen Generations survivor herself, was commissioned to create the artwork for the memorial.

She said, “My whole public art career has been moving towards this moment in time. The whole meaning is about bringing them home.”

The artwork features two tail feathers of the Kaarak (Red Tailed cockatoo) which represent the collective loss of the children who were stolen from their families. Surrounding the feathers are five Mia Mias (traditional houses). They signify ‘bringing them home’, honouring the space as a long-held meeting place for Aboriginal people over the years.

Ms Hill said, “The feathers represent the time, and I couldn’t think of a better way to recognise those stolen children than with these feathers. When it lights up, it acts as a beacon to help them find their way home.”

The space will be used for annual Sorry Day gatherings, as well as being an educational, ceremonial space and gathering place for Stolen Generations survivors and family. The memorial will be an important public space for survivors to mourn their loss, and where the truth of the past can be acknowledged.

Mitchell Garlett from the Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Christian Congress (WA) was there for the opening of the memorial and said it was a particularly special occasion.

He said, “This is a really beautiful memorial. It makes this place a kwurt place, a heart place again. I know our old people would be pleased with this. For me this is the beginning of acknowledging the past and what had taken place at a public level, which will only lead to bigger and better things as first and second peoples journey together towards healing, truth and justice for a hurting world in which we live.”

If you want to learn more about the development of this acknowledgement to the Stolen Generations here’s an article from Revive written earlier in the year talking about the significance of the space. A video has also been produced where Sandra Hill tells her story of the creation of this artwork.

We look forward to taking part in Sorry Day next year where the memorial will be a powerful presence as we acknowledge the grief and trauma experienced by members of the Stolen Generations and their families, and celebrate the strength and resilience of survivors.

Wendy Hendry and Geoff Bice, Uniting Church WA Social Justice Unit.

Community groups Hiked 4 Humanity for refugees on temporary visas

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On Saturday 20 November, the Uniting Church Social Justice Unit along with many other community organisations and individuals joined together for a Hike 4 Humanity around the Kent Street Weir Park in Wilson. They are deeply concerned for the ongoing struggles of refugees on temporary visas living in our community with little hope of permanency and family reunion.

People like Salem Askari, a stonemason who has been working in the Perth building industry for the last eight years after fleeing Afghanistan as a refugee.

Salem is one of about 200 refugees on temporary visas who live in the Federal electorate of Swan – one of the main areas of Perth where refugees on temporary visas reside. They are working and living in the WA community but are stuck on temporary visas and can’t get their families to safety.

Salem says it was particularly devastating to see Kabul fall back into the hands of the Taliban when the Allied forces, including Australia, withdrew earlier this year.

“I am so stressed. It is really difficult to feel so helpless when your family are in such danger.”

Salem’s wife remains in Kabul and was working for the Afghan Government as a civil engineer up until the country fell. She is now in hiding, fearing for her life. He wishes he could sponsor her to come to Australia but since the Australian Government will only grant him a temporary visa, he is not permitted to bring her to safety.

“It is immensely frustrating. Eight years ago, I fled the same Taliban that my wife is now in danger from, but we still can’t be together, we can’t both be safe.

“I love living in Perth. Most of us have been here nearly a decade – we work hard, we pay tax, but we still are not allowed to settle. We want to invest in the community, we want to reunite with our family, but we need help to convince the Government to give us a permanent visa,” said Salem

Salem along with other refugees in his situation, and supporters in the WA Refugee and People Seeking Asylum Network (WARPSAN) of which the Uniting Church in WA is a member, have been organising to raise awareness of the difficulties of life on a temporary visa in a campaign called We All Need Our Families. The Hike 4 Humanity was planned as a family-friendly event to help launch the campaign and was successfully attended by approximately 160 people on the sunny Saturday morning.

The hike began with a welcome to Country by Clive Smith and his son Donald, both proud Wadjak Ballardong men, and then Salem shared some of his story along with Dr Hessom Razavi, a former refugee from Iran, now a writer and ophthalmologist based in Perth. Wendy Hendry from the Social Justice Unit was the MC, and gave attendees an overview of the campaign, and encouraged people to get involved, learn more and take action. An enthusiastic group of volunteers helped make it a successful event, marshalling participants around the hike circuit, finishing at the CARAD Fare Go food truck.

Geoff Bice, Executive Officer: Social Justice says “The Uniting Church in Australia is a long-standing advocate of the just treatment of people seeking asylum. We All Need Our Families is a community campaign to help put a spotlight on the cruelty of keeping people on a treadmill of temporary visas. We continue to hear the heartache of refugees and people seeking asylum who have fled the likes of the Taliban but are now powerless to help their direct family escape the same persecution.”

Geoff encouraged people to find out more about the refugees caught in this cycle of uncertainty, and about how to get involved by going to the We All Need Our Families website.

To find out more go to https://weallneedourfamilies.com
To follow them on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WeAllNeedOurFamilies
Or Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/weallneedourfamilies/

Review: Reflections on Faith

Inspired by COVID and Inspired by Seniors By Phil Ridden, Edwest Publishing, 2020

I recently read two of the volumes from Dr Phil Ridden’s ‘Reflections on Faith’ series: Inspired by Covid and Inspired by Seniors. Phil is a retired Head Teacher and now works as a consultant and writer, based in Joondalup, Perth WA.

Continue Reading

Uniting WA turns fifteen

In September 2005, the Uniting Church WA decided that eight of its community services agencies and parish missions would come together to form a new community services agency. UnitingCare West (now Uniting WA) commenced operations on 1 July 2006.

Now, on its 15th birthday, Uniting WA reflects on a history that goes back to the roots of the Uniting Church in WA, and the legacy of those pioneering visionaries.

The merger of Fremantle Wesley Mission, Mofflyn, Rainbow Project, Trinity Outreach Services, UCA Outreach Services, Uniting Community House Midland, UnitingCare Kwinana and Wesley Mission Perth into UnitingCare West provided a strong governance structure and more strength in adapting to the changing community services sector. However, many were worried that the unique and necessary programs provided by the smaller agencies would be lost in a bigger organisation.

Uniting team member Joanne Goodwin originally worked for Mofflyn, starting in 1996. “It was a very scary time when the organisation formed. There was lots of change. We went from being a tiny little program at Mofflyn to being part of a big organisation.”

All of the organisations that merged to form Uniting WA had begun in response to unmet needs in the community, and most had long histories of working to support vulnerable West Australians. The 2002 Marketing Plan for Wesley Mission Perth said, “Our programs of support focus on the gospel examples of empowerment. Empowerment is best achieved by identifying and working with people’s own natural strengths — working through the difficulties they are experiencing using these strengths to solve their problems.”

The Uniting Church also pledged in the 1977 Inaugural Statement to the Nation ‘to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.’
UnitingCare West was formed with these values at its core. And while it’s changed its look to become Uniting WA, it’s still the same at heart.

“There’s been so much change for the better since the organisation formed,” said Joanne, who’s still supporting vulnerable families after all these years. “We can definitely provide a better service for the people we support. We can link them to other services and give them wrap-around support.”

It’s exciting to be able to mark this next phase of Uniting WA with the recent relaunch of the Tranby Engagement Hub for people experiencing homelessness — still with the goal of bringing services together to support people, but now with an updated, co-designed, purpose-built space.

Donate now to Uniting WA’s Winter Appeal

Uniting WA are proud to support hundreds of people experiencing homelessness every day, but there are still up to 900 people sleeping rough across Perth every night and more than 9 000 people experiencing homelessness in WA. 

With Winter and the cold weather now upon us, it has never been more important to support people experiencing crisis and homelessness.

Uniting WA’s recently renovated Tranby Engagement Hub provides all the basic services you would expect from a homelessness service, as well as some you might not.  It’s the first purpose-designed-and-built crisis intervention space in WA that supports an active referral and engagement service model for people experiencing homelessness. 

A simple: “How can we help you?” to every person that walks through the door marks the beginning of a support journey that includes all the basic services you’d expect, as well as some you might not.  As well as access to food, showers, laundry and medical support, the Tranby Engagement Hub also provides customised support that’s focused on understanding the individual needs of each person we meet and working with them to identify the challenges they need to overcome to move forward in their lives.

But together, we can do more

Your donation will help Uniting WA provide more warm breakfasts, showers and wellbeing packs, and enable them to support more people with the understanding and support they need to achieve positive outcomes that drive long-term change in their lives.

Learn more about how you can help and donate today.

Sock appeal

Did you know that socks are the #1 requested item at homelessness centres globally? A clean pair of socks can make the world of difference to someone experiencing homelessness. And they’re in short supply.  Uniting WA are welcoming socks for men, women and children in all sizes, which can be donated at your local Uniting Church.

To learn more about the Uniting Sock Appeal, visit the website.