For the past three years Steve Taylor’s evangelistic work has centred on bringing Christ to older people and those living with dementia. Kenwyn pierce follows him for a morning
We’re sitting with a resident in the one of the common areas of a care home in Southwark. January sunshine streams through the large windows and daytime television in the background.
It’s a quiet day. The first resident here is delighted to have a bit of company, even though the conversation is rather stilted. He was at the church service yesterday, with London City Missionary Steve Taylor, but he doesn’t remember being there.
We try another tack, but he struggles to recall which football team he supports or anything about his experience driving an ambulance during the Second World War. Steve radiates gentleness and kindness. He shows no sign of being perturbed by conversations that have many beginnings but no apparent middle or end. ‘It’s different each day,’ he says. ‘Sometimes you can push a bit more and get in to deeper conversation.’
‘With people who are living with dementia, there are days when there is little more than yes or no answers – and it leaves me wondering, how do I get through?’ says Steve. ‘Then I might get to the next week and they are much more lucid and responsive.’
People’s journey to faith is often more gentle process than dramatic encounter. Later today Steve is due to visit a man who had a fall in the street six weeks before; a passer-by saw him in the middle of the night and called an ambulance to take him to hospital where he’s been ever since. His social care had not really been effective and he’d missed a series of medical appointments to deal with blindness due to cataracts.
This afternoon he’s having the operation to remove them; perhaps the accident has speeded things up. It looks as though providentially it’s worked out, says Steve. ‘He very often now talks about the “guy upstairs” looking out for him.’
‘He’s just started opening up all these Bible stories, Old Testament in particular – Samson and Daniel and Joshua. He’s already giving me tips on how to read the Bible,’ Steve says. ‘His approach is to read it slowly, and meditate on it. If you forget it, go back and repeat until you’re ready to move on to page 2. Where this is coming from? I don’t know.’
Rather than very direct delivery of the gospel message, a lot of it is just being with people, in their journey. With most of them, as you’ve built a relationship, the spiritual issues naturally come up.
‘As a missionary, your success is viewed by the church – rightly or wrongly – as people coming through their doors.
‘The people I’m working with, there’s little prospect to get them into church. The need is for Christians to be out there to visit them in their homes, that’s the most important context. To bring the presence of Christ to them where they are.
‘There has to be a place for the weak and wounded and the hurting and the faltering.’ We live in the not-yet of God’s kingdom: his kingdom is among us, but we still wait for the fulness of its glory.
Some of Steve’s inspiration comes from the likes of Henri Nouwen who speaks of seeing the image of God in something that’s broken, and the concept of the wounded healer: ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
‘Healing is costly, but it’s also partly a reflection of Christ’s willingness to sacrifice himself, to be whipped and beaten, ultimately to give his life.
‘I feel that partly in my home church Grove Chapel, where I spent some time as a church-attached missionary, it’s typically conservative Reformed Evangelical church. Like most Reformed churches it is open the accusation that it’s rather intellectual, and you wonder, is there a place for people who are struggling?
‘But actually we do attract quite a lot of folks who have mental health issues. A number of members have depression and a couple of families have gone through bereavements recently, and so we are not a church that’s on the wave of triumph all the time really.’
‘Because Jesus cares for London, we have responsibility to care for people.
‘My evangelism begins with my interest in building relationships and friendships with people. Through that, the opportunities to talk about faith arise naturally, and I grasp them.’