“Hold yer horses!” calls a familiar voice down the hallway as I prepare the chapel for worship at St. Jude’s Anglican Home. I can’t help but smile.
I go into the hallway and discover G with her walker. As soon as she sees me she calls, “Yoo-hoo!”
“Me-hoo!” I answer as usual, and she responds with a wide smile.
“Hi, G! Are you coming to chapel today?”
“Well I guess so but where do I go?”
“I’ll take you!” I come to her side.
She has made the walk many times before, but G lives with dementia and has trouble forming new memories. The memories she does retain are clearly precious, because she revisits them with me often.
“I used to go to church with Grandpa,” she tells me as we walk. “He was good to us. He took us to church in a buggy.” She has told me a few stories of her grandfather’s farm in the 1920s, riding in the buggy and getting into tussles with her little brother.
As I get her seated, other residents join us in the little chapel. It’s usually chilly so I flip the baseboard switches and sometimes pass out colourful blankets knitted or crocheted that have been donated by volunteers and friends. The chapel itself is low-ceilinged and cosy, with beautiful fabric art crafted by Mae Runions, whose work I remember from my days as a curate at St. Philip’s in Dunbar Heights. Behind the altar hangs a rectangular pane of stained glass depicting vines and grapes, reminding us that although we may not exactly look like a “regular parish” in the Diocese of New Westminster, we are still part of the Body of Christ.
St. Jude’s Anglican Home was established by a group of Anglican women as a non-profit society to provide a home for “elderly ladies of limited means” in 1948. Today, the home’s relationship with the Anglican Church is less formal, and the house, now a 55 bed complex care home funded by Vancouver Coastal Health and the donations of generous supporters, provides a warm environment to all sorts of folks.
I, Clare Morgan, am blessed to serve in this beautiful place as chaplain. I first came onboard in November of 2017, succeeding the Reverend Melanie Calabrigo and the Reverend Trudi Shaw, who served this ministry as ordained leader for more than a decade.
Every Wednesday, I arrive at 10am to prepare for Morning Prayer at 11am. I am served by a host of devoted volunteers, including the St. Mary’s, Kerrisdale Chancel Guild, who twice a month provide fresh flowers and perform altar guild duties, and the indispensable Barbara Teasley, who often plays our
chapel’s small electric organ for services. Brian West and Gillian Moore are also regular volunteers, as well as family members and friends of residents.
At Morning Prayer, above all, I give folks the chance to not only pray but to sing together. Music and singing has been proven clinically to provide good stimulation for people living with dementia. Folks who because of their illness can no longer speak can sometimes still sing, and even those who can no longer communicate verbally will light up when they hear a song they remember from their childhood. We often sing older hymns to encourage this. A favourite of residents is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” as well as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Jesus Loves Me.”
Prayer life at St. Jude’s is rich and deep. As with singing, often folks who have trouble speaking can still form the words of the Lord’s Prayer or the Grace, prayers many of them learned as children. People who are often agitated can become calm and quiet in the chapel. Indeed sometimes folks become so relaxed that they fall asleep! I don’t take it personally, but as a sign that a person feels safe there.
When we are done with Morning Prayer, I will spent the afternoon playing music, offering a Godly Play session, or just visit informally with people. There are quite a few residents who can still have conversations about God and their faith, or just their emotional well-being, which is just as important, and it is these to whom I am often called upon to check in. They live with a variety of challenges, and while some of them are related to aging or dementia, others are lifelong struggles such as mental illness or trauma. Some folks can no longer communicate in a way that I can fully understand, but there is still opportunity for connection.
One lady, E, was once a brilliant concert pianist. She can no longer walk or speak, and spends most of her time either in bed or in a large wheelchair which looks like a deluxe movie theatre seat. She has the most beautiful hands I have ever seen, long and elegant, definitely a pianist’s hands. I will often sit with her and simply hold one of them, and sometimes she will not let go for some time! I often sing to residents who no longer communicate verbally – with E it’s almost invariably “Bist du bei mir”, the aria from Stölzel's opera Diomedes. When I sing, her eyebrows lift and her eyes widen.
On Sunday afternoons, I head to St. Jude’s for Eucharist at 2:30pm. This service tends to be slightly more formal. I vest fully with alb and stole to help residents really feel like they’re going to church. My favourite part of the service is the preparing of the altar. After hearing a very pretty setting of “Taste and See” (the origin of which unfortunately escapes me), I decided to start using it as a communion hymn every time we set the table. The constant repetition has helped the residents to learn it, and now the sense of awe and reverence as residents sing this little refrain and watch me lay out the elements is almost palpable.
There is so much to celebrate about this place: its history as an initiative driven by strong and faithful Anglican women, its commitment to providing a home-like atmosphere, the dedication of all of its staff and volunteers, and, most of all, the wonderful tapestry of residents whom it serves.
St. Jude’s could always use more volunteers. Perhaps you feel called to be a part of this beautiful ministry of care! As the building ages, we also welcome your donations. Please consider supporting this magical place, and connecting with me to stop by for a visit sometime!
 Names are left as letters to preserve anonymity.