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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Internship Project Story: Brenda Boogren

Brenda Boogren, pastoral intern, Peace Lutheran & St. John's Lutheran Ministries, Billings, MT

KNOWING WE ARE NOT ALONE-Spirituality in Dementia

Share the WHYs of your internship project:

Why this project subject of interest to you?

I have done a lot of work over the last few years with the elderly population both here in Billings and in Minneapolis during my CPE Residency last year. I have watched many who may not even speak anymore join in on a favorite hymn or the Lord’s Prayer. I have also noticed that those afflicted with dementia often have a change in affect when you present them with communion. On a personal level, I have parents in their mid-eighties who both have their issues. My mother is showing signs of memory loss and an inability to do things she used to do like balance a checkbook. My father also has a head injury but is doing quite well considering. 

Why was your context a good fit for this project?

Both of my sites have very independent aging populations that responded well to opening up this can of worms. Many have been caretakers for parents or a spouse, other friends or relatives who have had some form of dementia. 

Why might this project be of interest to your fellow interns?

With our aging population today, dementia in all its forms is a major reality. We are living longer and this is a real issue where this illness is concerned. Whether we are working with the afflicted or the affected, it will touch our lives on some level if it has not already. The spirituality piece of my project was huge in bringing hope to a seemingly hopeless disease process. There is so much fear surrounding this topic that any way of facing it and walking through it is helpful. 

Share an outline of your internship project:

What: I did six weekly forums that were one hour in length and held twice at the church and once at St. John’s each week. So basically, I did each of the six sessions three times a week. I did it throughout Lent finishing up on the Monday of Holy Week. The lessons were: 

Week 1: Dementia and Spirituality: An Overview

Week 2: The Journey Begins

Week 3: Who You Are In Christ

Week 4: Uncertainty About the Future/Fear of the Unknown

Week 5: A Positive Attitude

Week 6: Prayer Life/Meditate on God’s Word/ Wrapping Up 

Who: I did the majority of leading of the lessons. I did bring in a guest speaker on dementia the first week and had a panel discussion on week four. I also used a devotional book written by a man who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book is by Paul Hornback and called God Still Remembers Me. 

Where: As I stated earlier, it was done at both of my sites and I have been asked to do it at another of St. John’s sites in May. I will be doing so, but will cut it to four sessions for that site and may not have the ability to put a panel discussion together. 

Purpose: My purpose was detailed in my weekly session objectives and my overall goal of the sessions. My overall goal was: Participants will gain insight and understanding of the crippling affects of dementia and how maintaining a strong spiritual life can help both the afflicted and affected. 

Hopes: My first hope was really just that people would come and experience at least some of the sessions. I hoped that they would find some hope in the realization that our God is with us in all that we experience. 

Share the Outcomes and Transformations the Internship Context experienced: I asked all participants to fill out a short course evaluation. One of the questions was about their experience in the course. Most people found the course to be very informative, brought up past experiences with parents or other family members, and more understanding of how God is with us in all of it.

Share the Outcomes and Transformations you experienced: This project was more successful than I could have ever imagined. Attendance was good and participation was great. I found that I was prepared and my leadership was well received. The real transformation happened before I actually started and that was that I went forward without any expectations. Yes, I hoped people would come, but I had no real expectations on how it would go. I walked in with confidence in my abilities and preparations.

What “image” exists in your memory from your internship project experience? In our last session together, I walked the groups through a quiet, visual meditation and I was very happy with how well it went. It was amazing how relaxed everyone became including myself and the image that exists is of everyone having their own experience with Jesus. The other images are people sharing their hearts and souls and still able to find laughter and joy in the midst of the pain.

How might this project experience influence your ministry in a settled ministry call? I will walk a bit bolder into teaching moments, knowing that I am able to put such a program together. I will also use my experience to teach other such classes and topics to reach out to my congregation and further into the community.

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