Churches are often focused on how to engage with young people more effectively, but as Debbie Thrower, former broadcaster and pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy for Older People, reminds us the older population can feel just as alone and separated from God as some young people do.
‘Ageing is a journey, which for every human person includes a spiritual dimension – whether they have a faith or not. The development nationally of Anna Chaplaincy is being undertaken by The Bible Reading Fellowship, BRF. One day, I hope Anna Chaplains will be as synonymous with spiritual care as Macmillan Nurses are for cancer care,’ says Debbie
The initiative is named after the faithful widow Anna, who appears with Simeon in St. Luke’s Gospel; both fine role models of older people who believed God’s promises and whose faith transcended loss and the diminishments of older age.
Anna Chaplains may be male or female, lay or ordained. They work in care homes, private homes, churches and community settings with people of any or no faith. The Anna Chaplains network is supported through local churches and is growing across Britain. ‘I was the first in Alton, Hampshire. Now with more than forty Anna Chaplains – who are part of a wider network of 80 or more people that includes those in equivalent roles – it’s beginning to gain traction in the South-West. Joanna Bound (pictured left, with Debbier Thrower), Care Home Chaplain Coordinator for CTiP, Churches Together in Plymouth, has joined the network and several others are waiting in the wings to become Anna Chaplains,’ says Debbie.
‘An Anna Chaplain is there to provide succour, help and comfort at a low point in someone’s life. As an Anna Chaplain listens to the story of a person’s life they are validating that person’s human dignity. It is through our personal histories and the telling of our story that we make sense of who we are – our identity past, present, and future. That deeply human person-to-person connection is so valuable. Building relationships with people who may be isolated, lonely, sick or scared is a vital mission which provides profound benefits – not to just the recipient, but also to the Chaplain and to the wider community, too. In calling forth the spirituality of the vulnerable, the fragility and the preciousness of our humanity is revealed.’
‘Nora, for example, a former nurse, was matter of fact about her situation when being interviewed for a film about Anna Chaplaincy: ‘I’ve gradually got to what I now am, at 90, seriously old. And the process of getting seriously old is not particularly attractive. You become so frustrated.’ As Debbie explains: ‘She was grateful when we could spend time visiting her and praying with her. Such visits are never one-way affairs. There is much to be gleaned on both sides.’
The aim is to have an Anna Chaplain in every small to medium-sized community in the country. Debbie, who grew up in East Devon, and knows first-hand what a retirement hotspot the West Country is, says she is especially keen to see it spread in her home county.
Bristol Training Opportunity – May 24, 2019: A day on ‘Growing a dementia friendly church’ at Westbury-on-Trym Baptist Church, Reedley Rd, Bristol BS9 3TE.https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/growing-a-dementia-friendly-church-tickets-58562699611 Jennifer Bute who writes extensively about her own experience of dementia (www.gloriousopportunity.org) and is a contributor to BRF’s Bible Reflections for Older People will be speaking along with Debbie Thrower, Pioneer and Team Leader of Anna Chaplaincy to Older People www.thegiftofyears.org.uk For more information, contactAlice.Kemp@bristoldiocese.org