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Blog Post: Reflections on undivided lecture

During June, we welcome ordinands on placement from Trinity College, to share in the life of the cathedral. Matt from this year's cohort, attended the second in our new series, undivided: a hundred years of forgetting and remembering on Tuesday 12 June. Here are his thoughts:

“This evening we were pleased to welcome a personal friend of the Dean, The Revd Canon Dr James Woodward Principal of Sarum College, who delivered a talk "The Dissolving Self? Dementia, Personhood and Human Identity".  A thought-provoking, informative, and at times challenging look at the issues surrounding dementia and faith. In sharing his own personal journey of dealing with a family member afflicted with dementia he brought an all too real sense of the reality faced by families on a daily basis of coping with a loved one losing all sense of who they are, as they themselves lose the cognitive ability to remember.

He challenged us in the narrative we as a society choose to describe and talk about dementia and reminded us that this is often ‘as problematic as the disease itself’. In doing so, he challenged us to face up to how we as a society view dementia with the same fear and anxiety as cancer was talked of thirty years ago. In taking us through what we as a society define as human identity, personhood, and worth (largely linked to our judgements over capacity) the case was put before us to rethink these social norms in terms of the individual who whilst being impaired cognitively still had value to the wider culture. He set before us the question of how the Cathedral, and Bristol as a city, might challenge the pervading narrative. 

Within ‘our alienation from our true selves’ James asked what role might faith have in helping us to remember? He reminded us that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1.27) and we do not become any less a child of God as our faculties change. Compared to the social construct that often identify us as less important when viewed through the lens of capacity and usefulness we were reminded that ‘God is everywhere and in every person’ and as such a person's ability to remember doesn't really matter as much as their ability to have relationship even for a fleeting moment.

James’ closing remarks gave us a challenge in how the current discussions around dementia are being formed, but also gave us hope in that ‘God's remembering is active. God does not forget us’. The talk was both informative and challenging and led to a spirited question and answer time; with discussions continuing over the delicious refreshments at its conclusion.”

The Revd Canon Professor James Woodward - has written widely and edited over fifteen books mainly in the area of Pastoral Theology. His latest co-authored book is centred on creating environments for shared living, titled ‘Developing a Relational Model of Care for Older People’.

undivided: a hundred years of forgetting and remembering runs on Tuesday evenings throughout June. All are welcome.  

Posted on 13th June 2018