How Touching Grace Began

Diana Walters has a love of older people that she discovered early in life.  Her ability to "connect" with them on a person-to-person level became increasingly evident in her work as Director of Volunteers for a major hospital.  There, it was not uncommon for one of her 100 or so volunteers, most of whom were 60 or more years old, to express yearning for deeper certainty about their spiritual welfare.  If these active seniors were unfulfilled, Diana wondered, what of those who were unable to attend meaningful worship?

This question was answered when she began work in a nursing home.  There, as is common, a part-time chaplain provided a conventional nonsectarion Christian service once a week.  Good!  Singing was lively but there were two problems: (1) Due to busy work loads, not all of those who wished to attend had the opportunity.  (2) The style of presentation was the traditional "talking to" and was lost on many attenders and probably on with dementia.  The sad reality showed a massive amount of unfulfilled desire and readiness to know God more personally.

In one-to-one conversation she found that most residents wanted to talk about their spiritual concerns, so that when she embarked on her doctoral traing she decided to concentrate on the spiritual needs of late-age elderly, especially those with dementia.  Her goal was to find means to help those men and women have meaningful worship.  At about the time to get specific about her research, a psychologist, Dr. Cameron Camp, came to Chattanooga to present a workshop.  He had developed many multi-sensory recreational and leisure activities for persons with Alzheimer’s disease, pioneering the application of Montessori's methods to dementia patients.  Diana, knowing that Montessori methods had been used to create Christian materials for children, and learning of Camp's application to dementia patients, heard a need shouting for help--apply Montessori methods to Christian worship for dementia patients.

The goal of her research was to provide a pattern by which dementia patients could fully “connect” in an experience of Christian worship that would be meaningful to them and that would be easy for non-professional volunteer care givers to use.  If so, this would enable churches better to serve the growing population of persons with dementia, persons for whom traditional “talk only” methods of pastoral care were not particularly helpful (and which were often demoralizing to caregivers, who rarely saw signs of attentiveness).

 

Several prototype methods were developed and given preliminary field testing. Then, the project became the basis of Diana’s doctoral research study, a rigorous empirical process that is thought to be the first carefully controlled empirical research on the delivery of spiritual care to persons with dementia.  The book, Remembering the Life of Jesus, is the result of her research.  The abstract of the research is available to read or download (click here) and the full dissertation may be downloaded at www.TouchingGrace.org