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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

An Anna Chaplain’s guide to starting informal services for older people

Updated: May 4, 2022

In Worcestershire, Malvern’s Anna Chaplain Eileen Tomlin explains how she’s helped people who don’t normally get to church by providing a series of informal services built around a craft activity:

Our first ‘informal service’ was a carol service in December 2021, held in our church room. It was planned especially for people with dementia and special needs and their carers. A group of older people came from a care home and a group of younger people from a home for those with physical and mental challenges. On arrival, everyone was given a bag containing a kit of white card shapes which I’d cut out beforehand. In between well-known carols and hearing the Christmas readings, everyone put together an angel from the kit, and I related the different parts of the angel to the various readings.

Four more services are planned for this year, 2022. The first was held in March on the theme of Spring, and this time we had several people from the community: mothers with their daughters, and husband and wife couples. To accompany the theme, I’d collected cardboard egg boxes which made people curious!

Firstly, the top of the egg box, the flat part, reminds us of our Christian faith, which undergirds our life. Place the other part inside to make a planter – it’s bumpy, but life isn’t always smooth-going; we have lots of ups and downs. Then we put compost into the egg moulds, to represent God’s goodness towards us and all the strength and hope he gives. We sprinkled some seeds in, to represent all God’s gifts to us, and covered them with a bit more soil to help them to grow and to remind us that we need to keep our faith strong with prayer.

Everyone was given a cardboard bee-shape on a lolly-stick which we stuck in to remind us that we all need to pass on our faith to those around us. But our bee can’t see! So we added a ‘goggle-eye’ for God’s love watching over us. And finally some wings, for the Spirit of God blowing over his world and moving from place to place amongst his people.

Most of those who came had carers with them to help with making things and we ended with tea and cakes provided by our lovely church ladies. Everyone enjoyed it so much. I asked two people who were normally regular church members to read, and it gave them so much joy to do this… as it’s a role they used to take. But now, it’s very hard to commit themselves to being on a rota, as they can’t necessarily get to church, due to their partner’s dementia.

One lady, in her 96th year, came. She used to be an organist but she is nearly blind, and her fingers are stiff, so she can no longer play. She says she doesn’t know the hymn words, as she was always playing them, but she ‘played the organ’ on the table!

Apart from the bees’ eye, the seed kit is all ecological and can be sunk into the ground in order for the seeds to grow. I could not believe it when, on the 3rd day (notice the significance of the 3rd day!), several people emailed me and sent a picture of their seeds germinating. God is at work!!

Eileen Tomlin, Malvern




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