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  • 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.

Anna Chaplaincy in Medway, Kent

At the Medway Anna Chaplaincy hub meeting in August there was discussion about the lost confidence of older people, but also of team members. Older people are saying ‘we will come back to church, but not yet’. Those who pre-Covid organised support groups for carers and people with dementia are also anxious about taking the first steps in re-starting. Where these groups have resumed the need has been great and there has been terrific support and encouragement from local health and care professionals (from Age UK, Admiral nursing, social prescribing teams and Alzheimer’s Society). The Companions Café in Hoo, led by Anna Chaplain Margaret Hollands, is one such group – a former Alzheimer’s Society dementia café now organised by Margaret and her volunteers from St Werburgh’s. Those working in social prescribing in Medway say there is great demand for the support churches can offer through these networks.

A focus on the bereaved is natural at a time like this when so many have lost family members, through Covid and other causes, many facing grief in isolation. Jennie Spalding and Maureen Cannon in South Gillingham are offering The Bereavement Journey course this Autumn in response to these needs and hoping to create a bereavement pastoral visiting team.

Also in the Medway team, Annie Ho Cooper and Carole Morrad from All Saints Frindsbury both work in social care. Carole is pastoral care co-ordinator in a local Christian care home, Annie a senior social worker in a London local authority. Both reflected on the complexity and intensity of need in older people presenting to their services this Summer. Covid has led to older people becoming less able. In Carole’s case the behavioural challenges in newly admitted residents with dementia have been striking.

Seizing the moment

This is a pivotal moment for churches in embracing opportunities to work in partnership with others in their communities seeking to support older people. Anna Chaplaincy is ideally placed to lead in forging links and identifying ways churches can fill gaps and offer friendship and support for the older people of Kent, Bromley, Bexley and Medway. In the new landscape, spiritual care will be an integral element of the support infrastructure developed for older people.



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