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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Anna Chaplaincy launched in Cumbria

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

The launch of Anna Chaplaincy with Churches Together in Cumbria has taken place at the 5th annual conference on dementia. Julia Burton-Jones reports:


On Saturday 19 September, 50 people from across Cumbria and beyond gathered via Zoom to mark the end of a highly successful Churches Together in Cumbria project to introduce dementia enablers to churches of all denominations throughout the county.

Through the two-hour event we heard from speakers involved in the dementia project, marking the conclusion and celebrating the impact of this phase of the work which had aimed to ‘make all churches in Cumbria dementia friendly by 2020’. Later speakers paved the way for the new phase of work, introducing Anna Chaplaincy to Cumbria.

Yvonne Povey opened the conference, reflecting on her role as dementia project officer for Churches Together in Cumbria between 2018 and 2020 and outlining plans for establishing Anna Chaplaincy. Yvonne will continue as a member of the Anna Chaplaincy advisory group.

David Richardson then explained the background to the dementia enabler project. Numbering almost 140 and spanning nine denominations to date, dementia enablers raise awareness and build inclusion to make dementia everyone’s business’. A questionnaire written for the project by Livability has enabled churches to introduce dementia-friendly measures. A highlight of the project has been the monthly Tea Services introduced across the county, where an inclusive act of worship is followed by tea and cakes. This work is done not ‘for’ but ‘with’ people with dementia. Annual conferences have featured inspirational speakers like Shelagh Robinson and Wendy Mitchell. As David said of the project, ‘The first act is finished, new faces will appear, but there is much continuity.’ The annual conference on dementia will continue and Anna Chaplains will work with dementia enablers to support and encourage them in their roles. David has worked tirelessly on this work since 2014 and reflected that ‘age is no barrier to innovation’; though in his 70s when the project started, he sees it as the most important role he has fulfilled in the public sphere.

The Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, then spoke to us through a message recorded for the conference. He was pleased to say that Cumbria had led the way in innovating to ensure people with dementia are included in church life, and that the initiative had been watched with interest from other parts of the UK. He saw Anna Chaplaincy as an exciting development and a tool for embedding the dementia enabler role in the life of the local church.

We then heard from three dementia enablers – Marilyn Thompson, Beverley Moore and Babs Lowe. Marilyn’s church is Carnforth Free Methodist. She has a nursing background and her own mum had dementia. She shared how a local team had worked with her to establish a Music and Memories singing group for people living with dementia, which recently won a community award. Grants were received to purchase songbooks, instruments and bone china. The sessions are attended by residents from local care homes, as well as people living independently. Since lockdown, the group has kept in touch with everyone who attended the sessions.

Beverley has worked as lead nurse in care home settings. She is from Kendal Parish Church where she has established a monthly Tea Service now attended by almost 50 people, including residents from local care homes (when transport and staff cover can be found – key challenges). Care home staff take the service booklets so they can hold a service in the home for residents not well enough to come to church. People living with dementia play an active part, including reading the readings. Birthdays of those who attend are celebrated with a cake and a card. Beverley has also introduced Messy Vintage, taking ten-year-olds into care homes for services. She has worked with the South Lakes Dementia Hub in developing these initiatives. Beverley is thrilled to be taking on the role of Anna Chaplain for Kendal Parish Church, as one of the first Anna Chaplains in Cumbria.

Babs’ church is Spring Mount in Barrow-in-Furness where she is dementia enabler and a commissioned lay minister with a specific calling in dementia. She cared for her mum with dementia and has a background in working in local care homes. Babs described the process of setting up a Tea Service for Barrow, with the setbacks encountered along the way. She read out positive comments received from those who attend services. The contributions of the children at Holy Family Church are especially appreciated – they create small gifts for everyone who comes to the Tea Service, and sometimes sing and dance. ‘I love my gift to take home. It reminds me I was there. It reminds me I had a good time.’ ‘We feel part of a big family when the children come in.’ Babs heard about Anna Chaplaincy at the dementia conference in 2019 and instantly felt called to the role. She sees Anna Chaplaincy as a ‘huge umbrella’ God can use to hold all the work with older people. She will be commissioned soon and will be supported by a steering group drawn from five churches across Barrow. Others will be encouraged to join the team as Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends.

We listened to a recorded message from Kate Lee, the new CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society. She commended Churches Together in Cumbria for choosing the title ‘dementia enabler’ which is positive and counters negative images. The project had reinforced the message that ‘dementia is everyone’s business and everyone can do something about it’. She said that Anna Chaplaincy has a broader remit but is an ‘outstanding programme and will build on achievements so far’. Alzheimer’s Society local staff will continue to support Churches Together in Cumbria in their work.


Julia Burton-Jones, national church lead for Anna Chaplaincy and advisory group member, then introduced Anna Chaplaincy, explaining the need for a specialist ministry with older people. Anna Chaplaincy is community based, person-centred and ecumenical. It is offered to those of strong, little or no faith, and is a process of walking alongside older people, listening sensitively to their stories. It encompasses many ministries – to care homes, in community settings and with the housebound. She explained that it is named after the widow and faithful older person Anna in Luke 2, who was steeped in spiritual disciplines and is a role model given her wisdom and prophetic voice.

The significance of the Anna Chaplaincy logo

'The new chair of the Anna Chaplaincy advisory committee in Cumbria, Diana Armstrong,' (Julia explains) 'spoke about the meaning behind the Anna Chaplaincy logo. The logo came from an idea of Debbie Thrower's [the pioneer Anna Chaplain]. She was looking out into her garden in winter; though everything else had died, she noticed the appearance of the umbellifer seed heads – though fragile, they were standing upright and providing food for birds and seeds that fell into the soil to produce new life. It seemed a metaphor of old age - though we may become frail we can produce fruit and nurture those around us. Cow parsley is a good example of an umbellifer that grows in abundance in the hedgerows of Cumbria. Diana urged us to stop and say a prayer for the work of Anna Chaplaincy in Cumbria whenever we see cow parsley growing by the side of the road.

'The chair of Churches Together in Cumbria, the Revd Andrew Dodd, led a short commissioning service for newly appointed Anna Chaplaincy lead in Cumbria. Dr Katherine Froggatt. The conference closed with an act of worship led by Rev Lucie Lunn.'

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