Seeing the carer, seeing the person
With 6.5 million carers in the UK, caring is a reality which is likely to touch all of us who are part of a congregation. Even if people do not formally recognise themselves as a ‘carer’ they may still be offering support to someone. Yet our experience at New Wine United last week proved that there’s a great need for carers to have the room to honestly share the day to day reality – the good, the challenging, and the often messy – in their church communities.
As groups of people who are often hidden in plain sight, many carers can feel isolated, even within their church family. In making room for the voices of those present we discovered every church can offer something to support those who care, regardless of size or resources available.
New Wine have committed a dedicated venue for carers to offer space for prayer support and worship. In this space we hosted 70 people, to explore the theme ‘Hope and Light Beyond Life’s Fog’. Our invitation was to acknowledge the challenges we may experience through life, as well as the possibility of hope beyond – and even during – those times.
Seeing the reality of caring
A number of strong themes emerged. The first of these is that the reality of caring can be complex, with good days and hard days. Very often a day can contain elements of both. Carers at the workshop acknowledged this reality, appreciating that this can make it difficult for churches to ask how they are getting on, without feeling that they are saying the wrong thing, or indeed the opposite of what might be helpful. One carer shared that aspects of care can be, ‘rewarding, but the rewarding parts can be far between each other’. At times, there seems to be far more ‘fog’ than ‘light’.
Rather than assuming what the challenges of a caring role may be, another carer suggested that what was needed was the need to overcome the, ‘fear of ‘difference’ enough to really engage and try to understand’ which would lead to, ‘acceptance, with no judgement, but with love.’ It is only within this framework that a safe space can be opened up for a church family to ask – and really mean – ‘How are you, today? How are things at the moment? How can we help you?’
Pedestals create distance
Another workshop participant added, ‘Even when caring roles are acknowledged, statements like ‘You’re amazing’ and ‘I could never do what you do’ might seem encouraging but it means you can’t say how hard it is’. Unwittingly we can place carers on saintly pedestals if we don’t follow up with ‘So tell me, how are you doing? Who is supporting you at the moment?’ Rather than assuming how a person is doing, carers shared that they would value support based on being asked. The need may be quite specific and practical.
It may be assumed that carers are ‘too busy’ to be involved in sharing their gifts more widely in the church family. In fact, many shared how important it is to continue making a contribution in church life.
‘Let me carry on teaching and exploring faith. And let me carry on filling our family with those on the margins – it will add colour, noise, change to our family life, and we will see God’s heart in so many new ways.’
Responding to the reality of caring
So what is the best way to support carers within a church family context? As we walk alongside one another through life – both the highs and the lows – why not consider asking those in your church family who have a caring role:
What would you like your church to know about your caring role?
How would you like your church to support you?
How would you like to serve / contribute to your church family life?
These questions can be asked one to one, in home groups, or as a full church. Give carers time to consider what might be helpful, and do ask again, not only in times that might be seen as particularly difficult. Crisis situations may need particular help, but often when they’re over, it can be harder to identity help needed for the long-term. Asking the same question from time to time lets carers know they are seen, loved, and valued as part of the church family.
‘Please don’t get weary of hearing that my family life is still tiring, still messy, still complicated no matter how much we all pray together. Keep faith with me as I spot God’s goodness in the midst of it all. Be flexible, I can’t easily ‘fit’ into church routines and expectations. Don’t assume what we need help with.’