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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

‘A profoundly divine vocation’ – Burgess Hill commissions four new Anna Chaplains

Debbie Thrower joins four new Anna Chaplains last night as they are commissioned in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, as part of Befriended, a charity dedicated to alleviating loneliness in their area.

The seeds for this event (10 November 2021) were sown at St Saviour’s Church in Knightsbridge in 2014 when, as a newly-recruited member of BRF’s staff, I spoke to supporters at a London fundraising dinner for the charity.

Gail Millar was there and told me about her work for Torch Trust, the charity enabling people with sight loss to discover Christian faith and lead fulfilling Christian lives. Gail was, clearly, the powerhouse behind their new holiday home and retreat centre on the Sussex Downs at the time.

A few months later she came to shadow me as I went about my work as a part-time Anna Chaplain in Alton, Hampshire, where the ministry first began and which I combined with my work for BRF developing Anna Chaplaincy nationally. We have stayed in touch since, as the time was not quite right for her at that moment, for we both knew she had the potential to be a fine Anna Chaplain... one day!

Well, that time has come, and yesterday Gail, and three other colleagues, Revd Will Fletcher, Theodora Verner and Clare Hobbis have all joined her in taking the step. They were commissioned at a service at Gateway Baptist Church in Burgess Hill by Revd Will Kemp.

Gail and her colleagues have each introduced themselves in their own words:

Gail Millar

Having worked in Christian ministry for over 25 years, predominately with older people, I am excited and invigorated by the way that God weaves his will and plans through our lives.

My husband and I were invited to the launch of Anna Chaplaincy – at St Saviour’s Church, Knightsbridge, seven years ago which was when I first met Debbie Thrower.

That evening I was captivated by the vision of Anna Chaplaincy and soon made contact with Debbie who invited me to shadow her in her work for a few days in Alton. Sadly I was not in a position at that time to take up the role of an Anna Chaplain but I kept in touch and followed the growth and development of the work. In 2016 our paths crossed again when I was in a new role with the Salvation Army and we met at various events/conferences, but again due to the full-time role I had with the Salvation Army I was still not in a position to take up the role of an Anna Chaplain.

In 2020, I was furloughed from my job which enabled me to care for my mum who was terminally ill until she died seven months later. What a privilege to spend that time with my mum as she deteriorated and experience what it was to sit with someone, share scripture, pray, listen and journey with them in those last days. Also to then journey with my dad through the days, weeks and months of grief.

In 2021, I was made redundant from the Salvation Army and one of the first conversations I had was with Debbie. I knew that now was the right time to fulfil that calling/commitment that had begun well over ten years ago to become an Anna Chaplain for Older People.

It says in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28, ESV).

In April 2021, I took up the part-time role as leader of a Christian charity working with local churches to combat loneliness and isolation amongst older people. With all the services offered to our older people addressing emotional, physical and mental wellbeing, spiritual care was also essential.

The perfect synergy was to bring Anna Chaplaincy as part of our work and ministry, to form an Anna Chaplaincy team working with other church leaders. This was a fulfilment of God’s promises, vision, hope and purposes, bringing the good news of Jesus and sharing his love as part of our Befriending ministry. I know God’s hand, leading and timing, is on my becoming an Anna Chaplain and I know he will equip and enable me to fulfil his plans. I am thrilled to be part of a team of Anna Chaplains and together we pray that God will use us to bless the lives of many older people living in Mid Sussex.

Will Fletcher and his wife Helen

Revd Will Fletcher

I have been a Methodist minister for just over seven years, and during that time I have developed a passion for ministering amongst older people. Most of my congregations have been predominantly older and I’ve loved the opportunities I have had to share with them on their journeys.

In both my previous appointment (in Sheffield), and my current one, I have had opportunities of going into care homes and sheltered accommodation to minister amongst older people in pastoral visits and in leading acts of worship. They have so often been the times when I have felt most uplifted and assured of my calling to ordained ministry. Whilst in Sheffield I had the chance to take part in a short course at Cliff College called ‘Ministry Amongst Older People’. This had quite a lot of input from the Anna Chaplaincy team. It was the first time I had come across Anna Chaplaincy and, whilst being really interested, I wasn’t in a position to be involved. As we pray that we are coming through the pandemic, opportunities are beginning to open once more to minister amongst older people in various settings. Just as I had begun praying what this might look like I received contact from Gail about Befriended, and teaming up with them and Anna Chaplaincy just felt right. My wife, Helen, is also passionate about ministry amongst older people and teaches different sessions of dance and movement for older people. Whilst we are not often in the same sessions together, it is so good to know that we share in this same ministry.

Theodora Verner

I am married with four children. My eldest daughter Susie was diagnosed at twelve as having an incurable neurological disease. I went in search of God and met Jesus in the early 1980s. It was then that my life really began, and my husband and my mother then became Christians as did my children.

My son had cancer when he was 18 but praise God was healed, however, Susie my daughter had stopped talking at the age of 14 and became bedridden and at age 29 she died in my arms. We took a sabbatical year and went to Bible College in Yorkshire before coming back down south where I then returned to my nursing career and ran several care homes and set up dementia units. I was accepted as a magistrate sitting on the bench in Brighton and am still a supplementary Justice of the Peace.

When I retired I completed a chaplaincy course and became part of the chaplaincy team for Princess Royal and Kleinwort Hospitals in Haywards Heath which led to me becoming the leader of the team.

I have known Gail and supported her in her ministry at Torch for many years, and more recently have become closely involved in her work in Befriended. When she shared about the chaplaincy work they are beginning with Anna Chaplaincy, it was definitely something I felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting to get involved with. I am very excited at being part of the Anna Chaplaincy team with Befriended and so pleased to be commissioned with them.

Clare Hobbis

I relocated to Burgess Hill at the beginning of 2021 with my husband Steve, for him to become pastor of Gateway Baptist Church and I had been wondering about how best to use my time in Christian service.

I heard about Anna Chaplaincy in the summer when I met Gail who works for Befriended, a charity working with the lonely and elderly. Gail mentioned that she wanted to start a new aspect of the work and form a team of Anna Chaplains. I have been involved in town centre chaplaincy in Watford and was inspired by what Gail had planned and felt excited about becoming involved in chaplaincy work again.

I have a heart for the elderly, and I have also been involved in running services in care homes with our previous church and coming alongside residents. I really feel called to this work as there is such a need to show, love, care and compassion to those who are lonely and vulnerable, and who need to know the love of Jesus. I want to make a difference in their lives just by being available and being a friendly face to hear their stories and life experiences and to show the love of Jesus to this very special generation from whom we can learn so much.

‘A lifetime achievement’

Before Rt Revd Ruth Bushyager, Bishop of Horsham and Patron of Befriended, conducted the commissioning, she presented Gail Millar with a lifetime achievement award on behalf of the Mid Sussex district council – an Applauds Award – for her charitable work over many years.

Revd Will Kemp, Bishop Ruth Bushyager and Gail Millar

‘A profoundly divine vocation’

Bishop Ruth later preached on Luke 2, the story of Simeon and Anna, describing how the pair show the way God ‘bestows great dignity on these two elderly figures’, placing them at the very heart of the action… ‘the God receivers, the God recognisers’.

‘God so loved the world that he came personally. This is a ministry of presence above all things: God comes in person to be profoundly present to the lonely – in body, mind and spirit, and attentive to their dignity, worth, needs, hopes, dreams and fears. And so it is that the vision of Befriended and Anna Chaplaincy is a profoundly divine vocation. It is a calling to be with the lonely, to be present personally, in attentive and compassionate connection.’




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