The bishop of Lynn commissioned seven new Anna Chaplains and two Anna Friends at a service in Norwich Cathedral this week. Right Revd Dr Jane Steen, addressing a packed St Saviour’s Chapel, said:
‘We have double the number this year. Maybe next year we’ll have another doubling? It is just touching the hearts and minds of so many people.’
Anna Chaplaincy lead for the diocese of Norwich, Revd Canon Madeline Light conducted the service which drew many family members, friends and ministers who were supporting the candidates.
There were Candlemas readings telling the story of Simeon and Anna from Luke’s gospel and part of a poem by Ann Lewin from her anthology, Watching for the Kingfisher (Inspire, 2004).
Coincidentally, Debbie Thrower, pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy, who had led an event in the morning ‘Introducing Anna Chaplaincy’, had also referred to a poem from that same collection of Ann Lewin’s poetry when speaking about the importance of prayer.
More than 30 people gathered for the morning session and lunch at the St Laurence Centre in Brundall, near Norwich hosted by Anna Chaplain Gaye Hailstone of the Yare Valley Churches. Guests included existing Anna Chaplains, some about to be commissioned and inquirers, many of whom were local clergy. The archdeacon of Norwich, the Venerable Keith James attended and wrote afterwards: ‘We had an excellent session with Debbie Thrower yesterday in the morning – for people interested in Anna Chaplaincy – it is such an encouraging and worthwhile initiative.’
An Anna Chaplain with long experience in ministry in East Anglia also wrote expressing her appreciation: ‘A huge thank you for this morning – as always, an inspirational talk. Many thanks, and I hope God nudges those present to look further into being part of this brilliant scheme.’
At the Cathedral’s Candlemas service on 1 February, Bishop Jane spoke of Anna Chaplains ‘bringing great insights and speaking into the hearts of older people.’ Unpacking the story of Simeon and Anna, she emphasised that the way this older couple reacted to the mother Mary and her baby ‘took the stress out of the situation’. ‘Anna and Simeon normalise what will happen to this baby. They normalise what will happen to this child in the course of his ministry. They normalise what’s happening for older people.’
The intercessions spoke of a ‘transforming Christ’, in terms of being ‘prayerful, pastoral and prophetic’ – picking up on the diocese of Norwich’s ‘vision and priorities for life together’ (2021).
Bishop Jane concluded by saying how pleased she was to see a man becoming an Anna Chaplain that day – John Taylor: ‘Anna Chaplaincy belongs to men as much as it does to women’, she said.
We asked each of the new recruits to give us a sense of what drew them to Anna Chaplaincy:
‘I was beginning to feel that I would benefit from additional training in the spiritual care of the elderly when it was suggested that I should contact the Anna Chaplaincy team. Soon after that, a local dementia home asked me to lead services, and I attended two unconnected meetings, where on each occasion, I found myself sitting next to an Anna Chaplain. The series of events felt like too much of a coincidence to ignore God’s prompting!’
‘As a reader whose ministry is largely centred upon older parishioners, Anna Chaplaincy is both a natural fit and an exciting opportunity to further reach out to younger carers both professional and voluntary.’
‘I needed to do something to help in these difficult times, as I have always loved being with elderly people. I used to work in a care home, and I felt Anna Chaplaincy was something I was being called to do.’
‘I love working with the elderly. I know I have been called to support this ministry, which is a great honour.’
‘My personal interest in becoming an Anna Chaplain was one of those “ping” moments which happened whilst I was on holiday in October 2020. As churches were somewhat restricted at the time and many were still closed, on that Sunday morning I tuned into the Church of England service, which involved Debbie Thrower and highlighted Anna Chaplaincy. I had never heard of that before, but I listened intently and later did a web search to find out more. Once home I had a conversation with a diocesan development worker. One thing led to another and finally, I realised that this was an area which God was calling me to.’
‘The reason I feel called to this ministry is a growing love and appreciation of the older members of our society: the stories of their lives, the wisdom they have acquired alongside the physical limitations, often feelings of loneliness and awareness of their own mortality.’ Sue Loades
‘“Thy hand oh God has guided.” Reflecting on my path to Anna Chaplaincy, I realise that pastoral care with older folk has always been present in my life from an early age. Fast forward through bereavement, a cancer diagnosis and treatment, away from a classroom environment, to phoning during lockdown an elderly lady who told me her life stories through her cupboard cleaning and revealing a different episode each week. It was a blessing to me as much as for the lady concerned. Then to a care home specialising in dementia this January; producing and directing Jack in the Beanstalk, a pantomime for all the residents to be involved in. “One church, one faith and one Lord” is pastoral. That’s out in the community, in a conversation, in a care home.’
‘The psalmist says, “do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength has gone”. Meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of older people is a good way to offer the love of Jesus and share the message of the gospel, especially to those who have never heard it. I applaud the diocese on this new focus on those in later life, especially in this pastoral vision year, and I am excited to play such a small part and become part of a wider team.’