Orangeburg Lutheran Church is opening its doors to provide a welcoming place for individuals with forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers.

The church will host a Memory Café the last Monday of every month as a way to create a comfortable gathering that will allow people experiencing memory loss and their caregiver to connect, socialize and build new support networks. The cafés are free to attend and welcome to all.

The Rev. Rick Mason, pastor of Orangeburg Lutheran Church, said the first Memory Café will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25, at the church, 610 Ellis Ave. in Orangeburg.

“There was one at a Methodist church in Walhalla, but they closed down during the pandemic. But it’s an initiative that is basically an outreach to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and also their caregivers,” Mason said.

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“It’s a chance for folks to get together and share some social contact and maybe do some things to help, especially the patients, kind of jog their memory a little bit. We will try to have music at each one because that is one portion of the brain that doesn’t seem to be affected by those diseases,” he said.

A light meal will be provided, along with music by Palmetto Jazz. Seating is limited and a reservation is required.

Bère Miesen, a Dutch psychiatrist, is credited with creating the first memory café in the Netherlands in the late 1990s to raise awareness of and fight stigmas associated with dementia and to provide support for patients and their caregivers.

After spreading across Europe, the concept took root in the United States in 2008, according to Dave Weidderich, founder of the Memory Café Directory, which catalogs and provides information on such meeting spots.

Weidderich’s site now lists more than 1,000 in-person and virtual memory cafés across the U.S. and in four other countries. Restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, libraries, museums and schools are among the number of venues where the events can be held.

Mason said the church received a $5,000 Growing in God’s Mission Community Engagement Grant from the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The grant funds have helped the church start its Memory Café, as well as create a handicapped-accessible restroom at the church.

“Initially we’re going to limit it to 10 pairs of individuals just to get our feet wet and hopefully expand it as we go. Right now we’re operating on the grace of our members who have volunteered and the initial grant from the South Carolina Synod,” Mason said.

“I’m hoping down the line and once we get it kind of established to go to some of the local restaurants to see if we can get some support from them as far as providing the meal. Right now my wife, who is a recently retired 4-H agent and who used to be a culinary arts teacher, is going to help with the meal,” the pastor said.

He said it has been his intent to foster more community engagement within the church, including with the Memory Café.

Mason said the idea of implementing the Memory Café came from church member Carol Livingston, a former activities director at Longwood Plantation.

“One day we were just talking about a year ago about some things we could do to use our facility better. … She said, ‘I heard of something called Memory Cafés.’ I had never heard of it before. So we started looking into it and got a little bit of information,” Mason said, noting the church council later gave the initiative its unanimous approval.

“The congregation was very excited when they found out we got the grant. They put up with me for a little over a year, the crazy old guy, because I’ve started a lot of other initiatives, including ‘Movies to Talk About,’” the pastor said.

Mason was referring to the free movie offerings the church provides at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month in the church’s education/fellowship building. The public is welcome and can call 803-536-1206 for more information.

Mason said it is a church’s responsibility to reach out within the community to meet needs.

“That’s what we’re called to do in the first place, but a lot of churches have kind of walled themselves out in fear. We need to be part of the community,” the pastor said, noting that he has received booklets of information on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia from entities including the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We have free information available, and we’ll probably call the Alzheimer’s Association and invite them to have someone come down occasionally just to be a resource. It’s mainly about the families, and particularly the caregivers, to give them support and let them know that there are people around who care about them,” Mason said.

“That’s the big thing. We’re not looking to get new members. We’re simply looking to help the community,” he said.

Mason said he can draw from his own experience, which included his maternal grandmother who developed dementia following the death of his grandfather.

“I know from experience and Carol knows from her experience because her mother was at Longwood in the memory unit and, of course, she passed. We recently had a member who I had to help get out to Longwood,” he said.

“He was insistent that he wasn’t going to go, but he was basically a danger to himself. He couldn’t remember how to get home some nights when he went out to get something to eat, and his living conditions were horrible,” the pastor said, noting that while his parishioner misses being at church, arrangements will be made so he won’t miss anything.

“We videotape all of our services live on the internet, and we’re going to try to give him a DVD player so he can watch the services on his TV out there,” Mason said.

Mason is hopeful that research will help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“They’re doing great research right now on dementia and Alzheimer’s. So hopefully that will help, but we need to do what we can for folks in whatever condition they’re in, not just dementia. That’s what God calls us to do,” Mason said.

For more information on the Memory Café, or to make a reservation call 803-534-1192.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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