Marion Hitchins, Anna Chaplain in east Southampton
‘My interest in older people began very early in my life, as I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother. I would spend time asking her about events large and small that she remembered. At the age of 11, I joined the Junior Red Cross and one of our activities was to go into a local care home on Saturdays, make the tea and talk to the residents. I had no idea then how valuable this experience would be in my later ministry. When I was 18 I started training to be a nurse.
Growing up, I didn't attended church regularly and had very little understanding of the relevance of God in my life. In my early 20s a devastating life experience set me on the path of seeking God and looking for his plan in my life. I gave my life to Christ when I was 24 and started to attend a very community-minded, socially active church.
Marion Hitchins (right) with the Revd Dr Erica Roberts
As my children grew up, I realised that God was then calling me to go out into my community and love the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. At this time, I worked full-time for my church, as the manager of a community centre, where among other things we hosted a specialist group for people with learning disabilities and groups for older people. I feel that this time in my life gave me a very broad experience of working alongside many different people, some of whom were the weakest and most vulnerable in our community. I trained in listening and as a Christian counsellor. I also spent two years at Bible College, one as a student and one on their ministry team.
Just as I retired from being a disability team administrator, the Revd Dr Erica Roberts was commissioned as the Older People's Chaplain for Southampton and I started to work as part of the team going into care homes to take church services. In 2018, I had the joy and privilege of being commissioned as an Anna Chaplain by the Bishop of Southampton. I am now involved in many aspects of the work of an Anna Chaplain, including care homes, lunch clubs, tea clubs, one-to-one visiting and Vintage Adventure (Messy Vintage), but I know that I can look back and be grateful to God for the way he has led, equipped and guided me to the place where I am now.’
Debbie Gurling, Anna Chaplain in Sparkhill, Birmingham
‘Anna Chaplaincy is the only ministry or work that I have come across that combines passion, experience and calling. I have worked with older adults in various forms for about 20 years. I have worked as a senior social worker providing care packages for older adults; I have managed a day centre for older people; I have worked in a dementia charity as an Outreach worker, and providing support to carers and at the same time was a volunteer for someone with severe dementia for five years. I have managed almshouses as a home for older adults; I have been a carer in a care agency briefly; and now I am working for the Royal Voluntary Service recruiting volunteers and doing chair-based exercises with older people.
My mother died in 2003 but had no one to share her thoughts or fears with, as I was recovering from major surgery at the same time. Mum didn’t tell anyone at church that she was ill, so there was no one around to pray or do anything spiritual with her in her last days. My mother was of Barbadian origin and was an extremely private and reserved person, so she wasn’t able to articulate what she was feeling or thinking. As well as having cancer, my mother also had early-onset of dementia. My mum would have benefitted from having someone to engage with her spiritually (singing hymns she knew or praying with her), because even though she couldn’t talk a lot, singing particularly gave her joy.
The idea of being a Chaplain became a heartfelt desire, which has never left me, and which got reawakened when I was asked to do a Growing Leaders course in September 2018. For some time, I have been frustrated that older people are constantly being overlooked by the church, as well as society. I am seeing resources for older people dwindle, a lot of emphasis on youth work and very little mention of working with the older generation. Anna Chaplaincy gives me the opportunity to redress the balance.
My journey towards Anna Chaplaincy, has been inspired by my passion for older people; my desire to see change particularly within churches; my life experience; and my desire for older people on the last leg of their life journey to have someone to walk with them, so they can end their lives in peace.’
John Phillips, Anna Chaplain in villages near Chester
‘I have always felt that I had a purpose that I had yet to find and I was praying for guidance as to what that might be. At that time, I was church warden and was asking for some sign over my direction. While in town in the precinct, doing usual weekly things, I realised God started sending me messengers. Sitting down drinking coffee, I found strangers with problems coming and sitting beside me and sharing them with me. This went on for weeks, until one day an elderly gentleman sat down beside me and showed me his badge, 'Please be patient with me. I have dementia.' I spent time talking to him and sometime later, a worried-looking lady came out of a shop, who turned out to be his wife looking for him. I said he was fine with me and if she had any further shopping to do, I would sit with him until she was finished. Relieved, she said she would take up my offer if I didn’t mind. Twenty minutes later she returned and thanked me for all my help. This had a major impact on me and was one of the signposts God very clearly put before me.
As I drove back, I noticed the almost-hidden sign in the trees for Thornton Manor Nursing home. The words Dementia Care seemed to be vibrantly illuminated and leapt off the board. There was now an urgency as I felt that this was the answer to my question to God. I called the home and spoke to the manager to see if they would like support and contact with the church. They said they would be very grateful for any support we could offer. I then spoke with our vicar, Ruth, over the way forward, and she was very supportive. We had a meeting together at the home and discussed the residents’ needs and what we could provide. Ruth and I sat down and designed a service book and the following week my first visit took place.
That was three years ago, and I have been there ever since. In 2018 I was commissioned as an Anna Chaplain with special responsibility for Thornton Manor Nursing home and the elderly members of the parish. I want to say thank you for the support provided by my parish St Mary Thornton-Le Moors with St James Ince & Elton. I have found my calling, and there is a joy in serving and helping those in the winter years of life. A sincere thank you to all the staff at the home who support my ministry; without their help it would not be possible; to Jane Green, the manager, for inviting me into the home.
The largest thank you goes to the residents who generously share their thoughts with me.’