CrossReach keeps us on the right path

Dementia campaigner Sally Magnusson is involved in a new partnership with CrossReach. Picture: Robert Perry
Dementia campaigner Sally Magnusson is involved in a new partnership with CrossReach. Picture: Robert Perry
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The Church’s social care service gives users the support they need to rebuild and find fulfillment in life, says the Rt Rev John Chalmers

HAVING spent a week this month with CrossReach, the Church of Scotland’s Social Care Council, I witnessed some of the dedicated and high-quality work being done across Scotland in the name of Jesus Christ.

The most meaningful and inspiring social care services are those driven by the people who are being supported, such as Heart for Art, CrossReach’s innovative creative arts classes for people living with dementia.

The artwork produced is impressive, but even more impressive is the community spirit, self-confidence and joy of those taking part. Their artwork is indisputable evidence that dementia is not the end – we must never write people off, dementia does not destroy the wonderful talents that are still to be released.

This message was powerfully reinforced by Sally Magnusson, who joined with us to launch a partnership between her Playlist for Life initiative and the Church of Scotland’s CrossReach. She said: “It is wonderful to discover that CrossReach and Playlist for Life are doing exactly the same thing, which is celebrating the individual – the person inside somebody with dementia remains that person till the very end of their life – and can be brought back.”

Two men who are being supported by the Church of Scotland through Cunningham House and the Rankeillor Initiative in Edinburgh told me that homelessness and addiction takes away everything.

Time has been a great healer for Matthew and George – they have been able to build trusting relationships with staff over many months. I’ve realised the way back from a place of despair is a long, slow process requiring patience and persistence, and I’ve seen that patience and persistence in the staff of CrossReach.

In light of what inspirational people such as Matthew and George have achieved, it is enormously frustrating that social care funding is often determined by political expediency rather than the long-term need to make a difference in people’s lives. We in the church must draw on the practical experience of CrossReach to challenge this situation.

I indulged my passion for golf this week, alongside some boys from CrossReach’s Residential Education Services. I saw so much talent and potential, both on and off the course, and had a fantastic time with some great young people. The experience brought into sharp relief the staff’s account of the stigma and fear faced by children who have been in care, which, in my view, is a prejudice built on a myth.

We can change this, and there are people in the church who could volunteer to give young people opportunities that they may not otherwise have to develop their talents. It has been a great privilege to be a guest of CrossReach services such as Bellfield care home in Banchory, and projects supporting people with learning disabilities such as The Bungalow in Stonehaven and Threshold Edinburgh. The staff are professional, but never lose sight of the individual they are supporting.

Through the very practical work that CrossReach is doing, the most vulnerable and those on the margins of society are being served, and when they are being served, Christ is being served. The love of Christ is vibrantly alive in the caring, serving hands of staff and volunteers across the country. When the local church gets alongside CrossReach, we can achieve truly remarkable things.

I met members of St Giles Cathedral’s Neighbourhood Group this week, and heard about the practical support they give to CrossReach – particularly through one dedicated volunteer who has redecorated every room in Cunningham House at least twice – as well as the financial support they provide. I also met Rev Richard Frazer, of Greyfriars Kirk. Greyfriars has established Grassmarket Community Project, a social enterprise and community café.

Richard told me: “We want to work more closely with CrossReach because their work is fantastic, as is the support and expertise they offer, the skills they bring and their knowledge of the voluntary sector.”

This month I have presented as gifts glass doves crafted by a Palestinian Christian group in Bethlehem. The glass used in their artwork is collected from bomb sites in the West Bank – they take the broken pieces from places of destruction and turn them into something beautiful. I have also seen this month that the Church of Scotland, through CrossReach, is helping people to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and turn them into something beautiful.

In the loving, person-centred, practical work they do, the people of CrossReach are living the sermons that too many of us try to preach.

The Rt Rev John Chalmers is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland