Anna Chaplaincy in the media
Part of the raison d'etre for this blog is to signpost what Anna Chaplains do and the effect their work is having in various areas. We're helped this summer by several items in the media highlighting Anna Chaplaincy.
Woman Alive magazine invited several women – me among them – to contribute to a feature about living life with Jesus. Author Wendy Billington also explains why Christ brings life in all its fullness, referring to her latest book, Retired and Inspired (BRF, 2019).
We're sparking column inches due to the fact that ecumenical, community-based Anna Chaplaincy has grown from just one (in Alton, Hampshire, where I was appointed in 2010 – the concept is almost a decade old) to more than 85 currently in our network of Anna Chaplains and those in equivalent roles across the country… All this has happened since joining BRF in 2014 to expand the network.
Anna ministry is described in a lengthy report in the Church Times this summer as a ‘work of the Spirit’, following a unanimous vote in the Church of England’s General Synod in July to encourage the development of Anna Chaplaincy across the church.
The Catholic Church
A recent article in the magazine for the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, The Sower, details the work of some of our network members in Rugby. I think Lindsay Pelloquin’s account of the impact The Gift of Years Rugby is making on residents and staff in the care homes they visit in the midlands speaks powerfully of God’s work in and through this outreach to older people.
An August copy of the Church Times also features a piece on Anna Chaplaincy (relating to a grant BRF has received from Hymns Ancient and Modern for Anna Chaplaincy development work), telling the story of two care home residents getting confirmed thanks to the work of an Anna Chaplain visiting their home regularly. Both candidates were in their late 80s! All proving that one's never too old to take the step of committing one's life to Christ… I think that makes the case for the mission element of this chaplaincy work in a nutshell, really.
It's great to see different audiences exposed to the message that Anna Chaplaincy is reaching the parts some other ministries have not yet reached... but I know as well as you do that today's newspaper is tomorrow's fish and chip paper!
More lasting as testimony is the Anna Chaplaincy Handbook's foreword, which I make no apology for reproducing here. When introducing the 25-chapter handbook, which not only tells the story of how Anna Chaplaincy came to be, but is also a practical guide to actually doing it, Bishop Christopher Herbert made a number of points in 2016 on why the work is significant and of its time. I hope you'll read (or reread it) as a reminder of why we continue to press ahead with the concept that's yet to break ground in some parts of the UK.
She had lived much of her adult life in a small and beautiful valley on the edges of Monmouthshire. Now, in her old age, she had moved to a tiny bungalow in the city of Hereford. And it was there, in a room crowded with the memories of her earlier life, that I first met her. I was a raw young curate; she was the elderly widow of a vicar. Her stories fascinated me because they linked her directly with some of the families who had featured in Francis Kilvert’s Diaries, composed in Clyro, Radnorshire in the 1860s.
One day she reached across to her cluttered coffee table and took into her wrinkled hands a small fossil, an Ammonite. ‘I want you to have this,’ she said, and with a seraphic smile gave it to me. It had no monetary value, but I still have it on my windowsill, a treasured memento of a witty and generous woman from whom I learned much. It is a reminder to me of her Christian faith, the faith of her forebears in that remote Monmouthshire valley, and ultimately a reminder of the rolling mysteries of creation.
Now that I am fast approaching the age she was when I first met her, I nevertheless continue to look back on her life with thanksgiving. I was supposedly ministering to her, but in reality she was ministering to me.
And that is partly what this book concerning Anna Chaplaincy is all about: the gifts that older people have, their needs, their richness of experience, that sense that they (we?), whatever our age, are on a journey, a pilgrimage towards God. And walking together on that road, sharing our lives, our sorrows and our joys is a deeply enriching experience for everyone.
People who are Anna Chaplains are, as Debbie Thrower says, ‘motivated by love, reaching out in love to others on their spiritual journey, as a companion’.
The development of Anna Chaplaincy from its birthplace in Alton, Hampshire and now spreading rapidly across the UK is a story which is truly heartening. It is a signal that God’s grace continues to bubble up in unexpected places and at unexpected times. It is part of that movement of the Holy Spirit which informs and gently challenges our age.
Of course, as in all forms of chaplaincy, there is much to learn. This handbook, rooted in experience, acknowledges the need for continuous learning and development and reveals the practical steps that can and should be taken by anyone who feels called to be an Anna Chaplain. But it centres all of this in a profound set of Christian beliefs about the values, challenges and joys of old age.
This is a wise handbook and one which is to be treasured. It sees that the care of older people is part of the heart‑purpose of God and that for churches to be involved in this form of ministry is to share in the healing love which Christ has for our hurting communities.
I commend it to you most warmly, with gratitude for all that has already been achieved and in the hope that this form of ministry will continue to flourish and grow in the years ahead.
Rt Revd Dr Christopher Herbert
Getting a copy of the handbook
If you'd like to order a copy of the Anna Chaplaincy Handbook, write to us with your name, address and some details of why you'd like to see Anna Chaplaincy starting up where you live: firstname.lastname@example.org