Carers come in all shapes and sizes: a daughter looking after aged parents; a husband caring for his wife with dementia; young carers looking after a loved one with a disability. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 adults are carers and that every day another 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility. Given these statistics, it’s likely that most church families will have carers in their congregation, and it’s important to bear in mind that what we see on a Sunday at church is not necessarily indicative of someone’s caring responsibilities at home. I remember a lady telling me that no one in her church knew that her husband had dementia, and when asked how she was at church she would simply respond, “I’m fine!”
Whilst caring for a loved one is a privilege, it can also be exhausting, isolating, worrying and frustrating, leaving people physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially depleted. So what can churches do to support informal carers?
During the pandemic, the charity Embracing Age established an ecumenical weekly zoom gathering to give carers the opportunity to chat and pray together. We asked them how they would like churches to support them in their caring role, and they highlighted the importance of being seen, heard, enabled, included, prayed for and offered practical help. These weekly online gatherings are still going ahead.
Of course, how these things are done is vital: it’s no good asking a carer how they are in front of the person they are caring for. They are very unlikely to feel able to open up. Likewise, it’s little use offering, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!” Asking for help is difficult, so far better to be specific about the sort of practical help you are able to offer: “I’m available on Tuesday afternoons if you would like me to come and spend time with John while you have a few hours to yourself.” That’s a much easier offer to respond to. A good question to ask can be, “What would help you the most at the moment?”
It’s wonderful when churches can work together to connect carers across congregations regularly, whether in person or over zoom. Zoom is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it does enable carers to connect without finding a sitter for their loved one. Carers appreciate connecting and praying with others who understand the challenges they are facing and who share their faith.