• Stuart Holley

Anna Chaplaincy in Kent: A New Landscape of Spiritual Care

In Rochester Diocese the first Anna Chaplains were commissioned in 2017. Anna Chaplaincy lead Julia Burton-Jones began working in Canterbury Diocese later that year and the first Anna Chaplains in North Kent were commissioned in September 2019. Six months later Covid-19 took Kent (as elsewhere) into lockdown.

Throughout the pandemic Kent Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends have continued to support older people in their communities, mainly through regular telephone contact. Local Anna Chaplaincy hub meetings moved to Zoom so Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends could continue to support one another, with Julia facilitating sessions to hear about experiences of lockdown across the two dioceses.

As restrictions ease, some local Anna Chaplaincy hubs in Kent are now meeting in person, while others continue on Zoom. A new landscape of spiritual care is apparent in the stories told from across Kent and into the London Boroughs of Bromley and Bexley which are in Rochester Diocese.

Care Homes

Anna Chaplaincy in care homes continued remotely during the pandemic where care home staff enabled this to happen, with recorded services delivered and phone calls made regularly – most often to staff but sometimes also to residents. In Summer 2020 some services were possible in the gardens of care homes. A year on the picture is patchy. Some care homes are welcoming clergy and Anna Chaplains back to provide church services and spend time with individuals, asking if there are additional ways they can get involved because activities staff have lost many of their community links due to prolonged isolation.

In other care homes, however, re-establishing links and planning a return to regular visiting is proving difficult. The message from senior staff is that Covid risks mean chaplaincy visits are not yet possible. It is difficult to understand the widely varying stances; knowing how hard to push for services and pastoral visits to restart is tricky, given that chaplains are guests in care homes, yet the absence of a local church presence over such a long period is a deep concern.

Anna Chaplaincy teams in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells have decided to continue recording monthly services for care homes as this has been so well received. Activities staff can enable groups and individual residents to see these recorded services.

New opportunities for partnership

A marked shift in Kent, linked to the pandemic, is the readiness of other organisations to work with churches in meeting needs of frail and isolated older people. Covid-19 revealed and contributed to these needs. Carers deprived of their usual peer networks during the pandemic are desperate to return to support groups; churches in Kent are seen by health and care providers as ideal partners in running community groups and activities. There is a fresh and welcome openness to collaboration with churches, particularly in the realm of social prescribing.