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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

An Anna Chaplain and her dog… for Wantage!

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Anna Chaplain Wendy Moorin with Tilly and circuit superintendent Revd Keith Underhill.

Wendy Moorin was commissioned as Anna Chaplain for Great Western Park and Wantage on Sunday 5 February, and Tilly came too! Wendy’s Methodist minister, Revd Keith Underhill was one of the founding fathers of Anna Chaplaincy when he was circuit superintendent in Alton back in 2010.

Wendy is part of a community chaplaincy team led by Libby Hawkness-Smith who was also part of the commissioning service at Keith’s Methodist church in Wantage. Where Wendy goes, her dog Tilly invariably goes too and she was listening obediently when Wendy spoke about her Anna Chaplaincy work during Sunday’s service. This is what Wendy said:

What is a chaplain and what do we think of when we see a chaplain?

‘In the media, it is usually someone in a dog collar and either working in the Armed Services abroad, the Police or hospices and hospitals. Now there are chaplains in airports, shopping malls, football grounds, schools, universities and lots of other places.’

What characteristics do you need to be a chaplain? ‘Be friendly and affirming, not pushy and be prepared to listen and learn and to engage with people where they are and on their terms.’

What does an Anna Chaplain do?

‘A very wide range of things but for me, I think mainly just being there on a regular basis. The role chiefly is to nurture spirituality in its broadest sense. The Anna Chaplaincy is under the auspices of BRF so between them they produce a lot of helpful reading material, weekly podcasts and courses.’

What are my qualifications?

‘Apart from all my varied life experiences, I have done the Worship Leaders’ course and a Discipleship Course, but for me, I think the most useful one was the one on Listening Skills, and of course, it is an ongoing learning experience for me.

‘When I first looked into what it means to be a chaplain, I learnt that a chaplain is a guest! I didn’t know that and I wonder how many of you would have known? Thinking about it, how many of you are acting in a chaplain’s capacity to those you meet on a daily basis, both friends and strangers? I love that when it works well, the pastoral visiting scheme which operates in our churches makes us chaplains to our allocated group, but chaplaincy works in a much wider context to those who have little or no faith. It is, like most roles, a continuous learning experience of being a “guest”.

‘In my previous circuit in Buckinghamshire, I volunteered and helped to organise a monthly service at a local care home. This went on for numerous years and I also became one of the pastoral visitors to members of the church. So without realising it I was being prepared and already doing “chaplaincy” work.

‘My husband and I moved to Wallingford in 2016, after he had been diagnosed four years previously with Parkinson’s disease and we realised we needed to downsize from our large family home in the High Wycombe and Marlow Circuit where we had lived for 50+ years.

‘I was his carer for as long as I was able, but as his health deteriorated during 2018 it became obvious that he needed 24-hour nursing and so he was moved to a local care home where he died in 2019. During the six months, he was a resident, I was drawn into befriending and getting to know many of the other residents. It all happened very naturally and gave me much happiness. So not long after he died, with time on my hands, I asked Sarah Ifill if I could shadow her in her chaplaincy role to see what was involved. Keith and Alan Smith chatted with me about the role. Keith mentioned Anna Chaplaincy, which I had not heard of, so I thought I should see if this was where I felt I could be of use, and so I volunteered to give it a trial period.

‘Keith told me about Anna Chaplaincy which, as he said, is needed now in a far greater capacity than before; so many older people are living alone and have few people to talk to and share their company. Those in care homes have lovely carers but they are kept so busy it’s rare that they have time to sit and listen to them. I know that some residents have visitors, but many don’t and so are very lonely in spite of being well looked after physically. So the Anna Chaplaincy specifically has been set up to provide spiritual support, to explore what are the key essentials for a contented end-of-life experience, which may include a faith aspect or it may not.’

What do I do now?

‘I visit William’s Place in Didcot once a week on a Thursday when there is a coffee morning. William’s Place is classed as “Independent Living” and the residents have to be 75 or over and be able to care for themselves. I started visiting in 2019, just before the pandemic, and I was just getting to know some people when everything was closed up and there were no more visits for nearly a year.

‘I did write to some and telephone a few that I had got to know, but it hadn’t really been long enough to form relationships. There are about 60 residents; they do change regularly with new people coming and older people moving on and so far I have probably only met about 20 of them.

‘Many are still quite active and able to go out and about, while some prefer not to socialise and so stay in their apartments. There is a weekly Communion service conducted by a local vicar. More popular are the quiz evenings and music evenings. So visits here are quite informal, and we have lots of chats, and when I have to occasionally miss a session I know they miss me. I know they respect me too – when talking about what sort of humour they liked, I suggested that someone might like to tell us a joke. They said not in front of me, their jokes were too beneath the belt!

‘I was put in touch by the Anna Chaplaincy team, through BRF, with a Christian lady moving into a care home in Abingdon. She is in a wheelchair and had visits from a chaplain when she lived in Brighton. We have lovely chats and she is as much a chaplain as I am. She knows everyone and makes the carers feel much appreciated with her kind words as well as popping in to see all the bed-bound folk every day to say hello, tell them she’s their friend and ask if there is anything she can do for them. She is teaching me a lot. We talk about prayer and about our life experiences. As with a lot of older folk, the subject of the challenges of our health, our disabilities and our loss of focus features a lot, but we do talk about the meaning of life and what we can still do as we lose some of our abilities.

‘“Do you read your Bible?”, she asked me, “Do you still believe all that stuff?” I explain that it’s natural to have questions and doubts as long as she knows that God loves her, loves us all, doubts and everything. Life for her is a challenge but I come away from my visits feeling blessed to have spent time in her company.’

Anna Chaplain Wendy Moorin with Tilly, circuit superintendent Revd Keith Underhill and Libby Hawkness-Smith, community chaplaincy lead, Great Western Park and Wantage.

Also speaking at the service was Libby Hawkness-Smith and she has kindly provided the text of her message too:

Chaplains in the Methodist Church focus their ministry around the five “Ps”: prayerfulness, practical works, pastoral care, prophetic voice and presence. What do these mean?

‘Some are obvious, others less so. Some are easier, others harder. Some are part and parcel of our work and ministry, others require a bit more thought and effort.

‘Prayerfulness is having an attitude of prayer and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit in all we say and do. For Wendy, it’s going into the four care homes she visits, aware that she’s going in with God, in God’s strength and being God’s eyes and ears. It’s being ready to pray with people when they ask for it, but not when they’re not at that point. It’s praying about all the stories and situations she hears and sees, knowing that God can, and does, answer prayer. It’s bringing it to our meetings together, to pray for help too.

‘Practical works is doing whatever is helpful and that we’re able to do. It’s helping to organise lifts from the care homes to local churches, making sure that people can get to lunch, connecting people, hearing stories and a myriad of other things that Wendy naturally does. A lot of chaplaincy is about being present with people, drinking tea and bringing peace to a situation, but a lot of it is about our natural tendency to get stuck in and involved, helping out where we can, sometimes without even knowing that’s what we’re doing.

‘Pastoral care is about kindness, hospitality, generosity of spirit, care and love. As chaplains, we embody the prayer of St Francis of Assisi who prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” It‘s about coming into a situation, spotting anyone who’s in particular need of a bit more TLC at a particular time, sitting with them, hearing their stories, seeing where they're at and offering encouragement to keep going. It often involves having tea with people and getting to know people as friends and companions on life’s journey.

‘Prophetic voice sounds a bit grander than it really is. It’s all about offering truth in love. It’s challenging people’s preconceptions about themselves when they’re negative and going through a difficult time. It’s speaking into situations that need more hope, more peace and more of God’s love. It’s being a voice for the voiceless. It’s about sharing people’s struggles and challenges with those who are in a position where they can make a difference. It’s being a voice of love to those in authority. It’s asking questions that need to be asked, but doing so in a loving, inoffensive, way and often in a way that comes across as being the idea of the people we’re speaking to.

‘Presence, our fifth “P”, is just that. It’s about being visibly present in a place. It’s wearing our chaplaincy uniforms, accompanied by our canine chaplains, in a public space. It’s about showing up when people expect us, and sometimes when they don’t. It’s about being approachable in person, on the phone or in writing. It’s the regular journeying alongside people, and not just when something special is going on. It’s about sharing our stories and the stories of those we care for in an anonymous way. It’s Wendy's interview on BBC Oxford and in the Anna Chaplaincy newsletter about her ministry. It’s being the face of the church to people who may never go into a church building. It’s being Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes and heart to people who may never know that they’ve walked with Jesus.

‘Chaplaincy: a ministry of five “Ps” – prayerfulness, practical works, pastoral care, prophetic voice and presence: Things that we all do on a daily basis, and which we keep coming back to in our day-to-day ministry as chaplains. Our guide posts and principles. Some are obvious, others less so. Some are easier, others harder. Some are part and parcel of our work and ministry, others require a bit more thought and effort. I wonder which of these resonates with you at this time.’




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