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Aug 05, 2016 | Karen Pettit

Together, Churches Expand Care for Those with Memory Loss



Bob’s feet were dancing, though he was sitting in the folding chair. I could see them moving in time to the music as I sat behind him and I knew that he must have been a good dancer in his day. I got up from where I was sitting, walked around to the front row, and stood in front of Bob. “Would you like to dance?” I asked, smiling and reaching for his hand. “I’m not very good anymore,” he said, “but yes, I would.” 


Bob and I danced together and he was very good. Though he is two decades my senior and struggles with memory loss, the dance moves came easily to him. He and I laughed as he twirled me around. I felt like a teenager again.


 At the Gathering Place,® people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss come together with others for a time of positive social activities such as dancing, singing, crafting, enjoying entertainment, and visiting with others in an accepting and loving environment. While they are there, their loved ones who care for them are able to enjoy a time away from the demands of caregiving. It’s a ministry that more than 50 ecumenical congregations have taken on and it is unique to Houston. Of these diverse congregations, five are Episcopal churches: St. Martin’s, Emmanuel, St. Francis, St. John the Divine, and most recently, St. Paul’s, Katy. 

Volunteers from each congregation form a team that is trained and supported by Interfaith CarePartners®, a non-profit organization formed in 1985 to care for vulnerable people in Houston. Interfaith CarePartners also provides a way to coordinate the many Gathering Places across the city so people like Bob can attend all the Gathering Places that are offered near their home. Each congregational team hosts one three-and-a-half hour Gathering Place each month. 


Shirley McAllister, a member of St. Martin’s, has been on its Gathering Place team for 17 years. McAllister said she gets much by serving: “The feeling of helping, not only the person with Alzheimer’s, but their family [feels good]. Knowing that they are giving 24 hours a day, we can help by giving a few hours. It’s a good witness. We kind of forget that.”


Another St. Martin’s team member, Carlene Warren, has a constant smile and her energy invites others to feel welcome. Warren spoke about what it is like to care for people with memory loss in this setting. “I love them,” she said, adding, “A lot of these folks grew up dancing a lot in the earlier years and so I feel like dancing brings that feeling of joy to them. Music heals all of our souls, not just theirs, but ours. There’s a connection … it connects us all together.” 


That connection between the Gathering Place team and the CarePartners like Bob, who attend each month, and the families grows strong over the years. Tina Adame, whose husband David attended the St. Martin’s Gathering Place, said, “David came to the very first Gathering. After the first few, he would sit by the window waiting for his ride to come. It’s because of the Gathering Place that he lived to 95! If it hadn’t been for this, David would have been gone.” 


Through tears she continued, “I always said that the day he couldn’t go to the Gatherings he would be gone. Robin Bruce began to pick him up to take him to all the Gatherings. After he was no longer able to go, he died within six months. Carlene and Kathy Tellepsen (St. Martin’s Gathering Place Team Leader) continue to check on me. I am so blessed!”


Gathering Places are held across the greater Houston area. Caregivers interested in locating Gathering Places or churches interested in participating in the program are encouraged to contact Interfaith CarePartners at 713.682.5995 or 


Pettit is a Care Team Coordinator with CarePartners and a member of  St. Paul’s, Katy. 



The Gathering Place is held at many Houston area churches. 


To learn about Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss symptoms, go to