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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy

The church and the elderly - a work observed

Isabel Smith, a Friend and enthusiastic supporter of the Leveson Centre, chose to visit Goteborg in Sweden as her second year project for the Pastoral Assistant training course in the Diocese of Leicester. She hoped to see how a church in Sweden worked with elderly people, with a view to learning from that experience and applying what she learnt in her own parish of All Saints, Thorpe Acre if appropriate. She was also interested to see if or how elderly people were integrated into the church, and what co-ordination, if any, there was between the church and other agencies working with the elderly.

We are grateful to Isabel for allowing us to publish some of her findings. In this issue we print an account of her visit to Landala, part of the parish served by her host Deacon Gunlog Faglefelt. We hope to include further excerpts in future issues of the Newsletter.

Landala Kapell is situated at the eastern end of the parish. Adjacent to the Kapell is a Day Nursery, and attached to that is a nine floor Kommune (Council) owned sheltered housing scheme, Landalahus. The Priest (Ingo) and Gunlög do a lot of work associated with this sheltered housing scheme (servicehuset), and also with the many other elderly people who live in the area.

The first time I visited, Ingo, Gunlög and I went to do a Communion service for the residents and other elderly people of the area. This happens every week, and Ingo goes in his full robes. An organist also attends, and an altar, complete with small wooden tryptich and silverware is laid out by the care staff. Two members of staff were present and about 25 residents. This is a small number, considering the nine floors of apartments, but numbers vary with elderly people. The room where the service was held is a community room for the residents and the elderly people of the area. It is a lovely room, light and airy and furnished to a high standard. Residents sat at tables for the service. Communion was brought to each person, and Ingo knew the names of each person there. After the service, which lasted about 30 minutes, refreshments were served by the staff in the kitchen/café area of the room. Residents moved to circular tables in this area, where fresh coffee, apple cake with 'vanille' sauce or savoury open sandwiches (for the diabetics) were served. There was a very nice atmosphere indeed and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

Anyone who is over 60 can use the facilities in the Community room, even if they are not residents. Landalahus is such a nice place that many people do come in to use the facilities, both for the church service and on a daily basis. There is a large hand loom available for use, a number of computers linked to the internet and a large meeting/craft area. On another occasion, two ladies had set up to do paintings in that area and a friend had called in to chat whilst they did it. I was struck by how alert these elderly people were, even though some were in their late 80s and 90s. Nearly all of them spoke to me in English and were interested in what I was doing. All the doors open automatically for wheelchair and frame users. There were two disabled toilets near the lounge, and two 'four-wheelchair' lifts with access to all floors.

Over the course of a few days Gunlög and I visited several people living in Landalahus. Once you are a resident it is not necessary to transfer to other accommodation if your condition worsens. Each apartment can also be adapted for nursing care, and meals can be made by the residents themselves or provided by Landalahus. There are smaller communal areas on each floor and also television areas. The rooms that I saw varied in size, but all were spacious and had disabled bathrooms and a kitchenette. All the rooms have their own balcony for sitting out on in summer. All rooms were furnished with the residents' own furniture and curtains. I noticed particularly that there were no carpets anywhere. I also noticed that there were no unsavoury smells.

Gunlög visits the residents here on a regular basis. With one 90-year-old lady, whose husband was a Priest and who now has very poor eyesight, Gunlög is reading aloud her choice of a commentary on the book of Revelation. Reading aloud seems to be quite a thing in Sweden. On one visit to the Kapell, there was a reading-aloud group for poor-sighted elderly people. This was run by an elderly gentleman. Another lady has a spinal problem and Gunlög arranged for her to have a ride out in a car. This lady is also learning Spanish with a friend. They are learning by reading text book and novels in Spanish, and using their French grammar to figure out the Spanish grammar! I was particularly struck that every room had a good collection of fine art on the walls, some produced by the residents themselves. You can play bridge here twice a week and the community room has newspapers each day. Also there are lots of books and puzzles, which are well used.

I did not see many men around. All the women I have spoken to seem to have been well educated, and Swedish women have worked outside the home for a long time now, so I presume most of these women have had careers. As mentioned previously, the servicehus is attached to a day nursery and built around a square with gardens in the centre. There is plenty of seating for residents to sit in the square, and many do. On the other side of the square is a primary school, so the elderly people are surrounded by young children. One resident who was formerly a nursery nurse is allowed to go and sit in her wheelchair in the day nursery whenever she wants to.

I loved Landalhus. The atmosphere is lovely. Coffee and cake are always being served (for a very small charge); local people are always coming in and out to chat, and the residents come here a lot to be sociable. Classical music plays quietly in the background. It is a nice place to be.

Gunlög took me on a 'bereavement visit' to an elderly Hungarian man who lives in an apartment right by the Kapell. He was very lonely having suffered the death of his wife and subsequently the death of his dog … Gunlög, it turned out, has a dog exactly the same as this man's. It suited her very well on two days that week for the Hungarian man to look after her dog. The man was delighted to do this, but he could no longer walk the dog. However, an older lady in the parish wanted to help visit elderly people and liked dogs. The arrangement was (and it worked very well), that the man looked after the dog and the lady went at lunchtime to walk it. The man considered all this to be 'a miracle', and he has two new friends as well.

Isabel Smith

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