Thursday, 16 August 2018 16:50

Respite Ministry of First UMC: Love, Education and Support for Families Living with Alzheimer's and Dementia

Written by  Angela Hargrave
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When a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can be a devastating blow to their friends and loved ones. The pain of memory loss and personality changes, coupled with questions of long-term care, can cause feelings of fear and hopelessness. One ministry in the River Region, The Respite Ministry, is ready to help, and their mission is clear: to provide love, education, and support to all families living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.


The Respite Ministry began in 2012 under the leadership Dr. R. Lawson Bryan, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, and Daphne Johnston. Johnston said, “The question was asked, ‘What is needed in the community that could not be accomplished unless the local church helped?’ We realized that there was a great need for the Alzheimer’s and related dementia community and began planning the structure of a ministry that would utilize local volunteers to serve not only the person living with the disease, but the care partners as well.” Bryan and Johnston then set a community meeting to introduce this new venture to local care partners.


“One of my favorite memories was when the first organizational meeting was held in 2012. All care partners were invited to the church to discuss their needs and compare notes on how to care for their loved ones. There was a tropical depression in the area, and tornado sirens had been going off all morning. The meeting was set for 11:00 am. In the midst of a downpour and sirens, 22 care partners streamed in the doors of FUMC. The power went out, and the meeting was held for two hours in the dark, illuminated only by candlelight. The need for such a ministry was clear,” said Johnston.


Johnston is passionate about The Respite Ministry because she has seen the difference a group of dedicated volunteers can make in the lives of the families living with the disease. “I’m always quick to point out they are still living, and not suffering or simply existing. Respite’s participants still seek joy, growth and friendship. The day is filled with art, music, hand-eye coordination games, and activities that challenge and provide autonomy,” said Johnston.


The impact on the city of Montgomery has been evident. From the day program, which is the heart of their ministry, a support group for care partners has formed. They meet once a month to hear the latest advances in medicine, to give each other advice and support during difficult times, and to celebrate small victories over the disease. More than 150 people have participated in the support group over the past six years. Johnston said, “Through the years, the volunteers from FUMC began bringing their friends from the community. A multitude of area churches, as well as Temple Beth Or, began supporting the program, either financially or with volunteer service. I will always be thankful for The Church of the Ascension and St. John’s becoming financial sponsors, supporting scholarships early on, and becoming a model for other places of worship to participate.”


By 2017, Ascension, ChristChurch, First Baptist, St. John’s and Temple Beth Or were all financial contributors to the scholarship fund. There is a $40 cost per day for the ministry, and that includes a hot meal. No one has ever been turned away due to finances, and last year alone, the ministry wrote off $37,000 in scholarships. “These places of worship working together is what caught the eye of the Administration on Aging. They highlighted in a national webinar the efforts of community partners from Montgomery, Alabama in the faith-based community. I was asked to speak at an international dementia conference in Atlanta this past spring, and the message of  faith-based volunteer respite was heard by over 1,500 people from around the world,” said Johnston.


In 2014, the Side by Side Choir was born out of The Respite Ministry. Laura Selby, assistant director of Respite, began a choir that meets for four, 10-week sessions, and concludes with a concert in various venues around town. This choir is for anyone in the River Region that would like to participate, but its focus is those living with memory loss and their care partners. “Respite realized people needed more activities with purpose, and this has been a wonderful answer. The choir is 60 members strong and performed at City Hall this past Christmas! They meet every Tuesday during their 10-week sessions, from 1:00pm-2:00pm at FUMC,” said Johnston.


The Respite Ministry has also impacted more than just the city of Montgomery, and even more than just the River Region. The ministry helped begin a similar program in Birmingham, Alabama in 2014. Since planting that seed, they have spread across Alabama and Georgia, inspiring ten different programs to assist those in need.


As with many ministries, Respite’s success depends on their volunteers. Because of them, care partners are no longer isolated; they have a group of people to share the burden of care. All of Respite’s volunteers are trained in dementia care, and they provide a judgement-free social outlet where loved ones can thrive and feel needed. Johnston said, “The magic of the group is that you cannot tell the difference in the volunteer or the participant. Everyone is the same—friends helping friends, neighbor helping neighbor. It is a place filled with engagement, enrichment, and social interaction, all the qualities needed to combat the isolation of Alzheimer’s. Lisa Geinova once said, ‘We can’t cure Alzheimer’s but we can cure loneliness.’ This would be the motto of The Respite Ministry at FUMC. Everyone is welcome to participate!”


For more information about Respite Ministry at FUMC, please contact Daphne Johnston at 334-834-8990 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information about the Side by Side Choir, please contact Laura Selby at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Angela Hardgrave is a graduate of the University of Mobile with a degree in journalism and currently works in the Marketing Department of Faulkner University as a graphic designer. Angela is also a freelance writer for several publications in the River Region. She resides in Wetumpka, Alabama, with her three awesome daughters and her dog, Emmy.


Last modified on Tuesday, 28 August 2018 07:30
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