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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

A medical career leads to Anna Chaplaincy – a first for Blackburn Diocese

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Revd Cath Gabriel, the rector, Canon Andrew Holliday and Anna Chaplain Sheila Fisher.

We’re delighted that St Wilfrid’s Church, Standish, Wigan, Greater Manchester has commissioned licensed lay minister Sheila Fisher as an Anna Chaplain. Reflecting on her long career in medicine, Sheila describes what led her to this point:

‘Throughout my medical career in face and jaw cancer surgery and later in medical research, listening to people and their stories and supporting them through potentially difficult and even life changing events has been core to my life. Whatever the challenges I always felt that God was there, holding my hand, helping me find the words.’

‘Beyond the time for paid work, I was a member of a European Oncology Research Network talking with people about their spiritual needs and the support they would value. I became an advisor to our Palliative Care Research Network in Leeds and a member of the Chaplaincy Development Group at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

‘I completed the training for licensed lay ministry some years ago but felt God’s call was to later-life and end-of-life ministry and this simply was not a priority in that diocese at that time. Things changed in 2019 when I moved to Standish. Andrew, our rector, finding out that I held a postgraduate diploma in funeral celebrancy asked simply: ‘Why is this not ministry?’ Bishop Philip North (bishop of Burnley) was equally supportive and I became one of the cohort to be licensed, remarkably, on Zoom due to Covid restrictions, in November 2020.

‘Last year a group of us, including Revd Susan Salt and Dr Katherine Froggatt led the first course in our diocese of Blackburn in later life ministry. Susan has now moved to a neighbouring diocese so Katherine and I are leading the course again, as I write this. The enthusiasm for the course is considerable. It is something of a natural link to Anna Chaplaincy both through its focus and through Katherine’s work (formerly as Anna Chaplaincy lead, Cumbria).

‘As a licensed lay minister directly active in care/nursing homes’ spiritual care and also as chair of trustees at the Wigan and Leigh Hospice, becoming an Anna Chaplain felt like God’s will.

‘This is a new step for our diocese and I was pleased to find our clergy team, our PCC and our congregation deeply supportive of my wish to take this step in ministry. It feels like the end of one journey and the beginning of a wonderful new phase.

‘My commissioning, by Rector Canon Andrew Holliday supported by Revd Cath Gabriel, took place at Candlemas as part of our main parish Eucharist and taking this step with the full support of our church family has been a deeply moving experience. I look forward to my ministry in our church and to supporting the growing interest in Anna Chaplaincy in our diocese.’




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