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  • Debbie Thrower

Anna Chaplains join those from other spheres for ‘Chaplaincy Now’ in Kent

Updated: Apr 14


‘Chaplaincy Now’ at Aylesford Priory for Chaplaincy Teams in Kent


On 7 April more than 50 people gathered for a long-awaited event on chaplaincy in health, care and community settings in Kent and the London Boroughs of Bromley and Bexley.


Originally planned for March 2020 and postponed due to Covid-19, the conference finally took place, though several participants withdrew after testing positive for Covid. It was organised by a team of three: Julia Burton-Jones, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Kent with the Diocese of Rochester; Revd Ruth Bierbaum, Medway Maritime Hospital chaplain and formerly chaplain at Kent’s mental health trust, KMPT; and Revd Penny Stephens, until recently chaplain at The Weald Hospice in Kent and formerly St Joseph’s Hospice in London.


The title ‘Chaplaincy Now’ reflected a focus on sharing experiences of how the pandemic has altered chaplaincy in the many settings represented – individual homes, care homes, hospices, mental health services, general hospitals and the ambulance service. It was an opportunity to share stories, often of trauma and loss, but also of hope.


The event began with a brief Quaker reflection led by Revd Tristan Alexander-Watts, lead mental health chaplain for KMPT. A panel of chaplains then each spoke about their own context, before responding to questions from the audience. Revd Sophie Sutherland spoke about her role as Anna Chaplain in Bromley. Revd Dr Chris Noble described his work as voluntary chaplain for Bridge House NHS Drug and Alcohol Detoxification Centre in Maidstone; his recently published book Breaking the Power of Addition draws from his experience at Bridge House and his own recovery from alcohol addiction. Ruth Bierbaum described the impact of the pandemic on patients with mental health conditions supported by KMPT; she contributed a chapter to the book Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in Mental Health Settings, published by JKP in 2019. Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, chaplain at Heart of Kent Hospice in Maidstone, shared reflections on end-of-life chaplaincy.


Delegates then chose two workshops from a selection of four topics – chaplaincy with older people, hospital chaplaincy, spiritual care at the end of life and chaplaincy and mental health. Questions asked of the panel sparked interesting discussions on aspects of chaplaincy, including insightful reflections on responding to a patient in a mental health unit expressing the need for forgiveness during a chaplaincy visit. The antipathy of some patients in hospice and hospital care to chaplaincy services was noted, and the skill highlighted by Revd Stephen Baker (hospital chaplain who led the workshop on this theme) in withdrawing gracefully from such encounters. Others who claim they are ‘not religious’ reach a point when they are willing to have spiritual conversations with a chaplain.


A member of the Carmelite Community at The Friars and experienced chaplain, Fr Ged Walsh, was available to offer informal chaplaincy to anyone who felt the need to speak to someone.

The Priory was a wonderful setting for taking time out of a busy schedule to reflect on the rewarding but, at times, demanding work of chaplaincy. Several took time out during the event to walk round the beautiful grounds and pray in the chapel. There was much conversation in the breaks and participants enjoyed catching up over lunch.


Reflecting on the two workshops she led on chaplaincy with older people, Julia Burton-Jones said:

It was clear participants valued the opportunity to tell their story. Going round the room in turn with introductions encompassed a large proportion of each workshop, with detailed descriptions shared by many of how their chaplaincy role had evolved during the pandemic. There was a need to be heard and much learning from one another and mutual encouragement.

Eighteen members of the Anna Chaplaincy team in Kent were present at the event. They valued the opportunity to spend time with one another, but also learning from colleagues in other areas of chaplaincy.


Comments received after the event demonstrated how valuable it was for chaplain to gather and share their experiences:

It was great to see so many there and there was a very good vibe in the room. The programme was varied and well considered.
There was so much for me to learn, and it was wonderful meeting everyone, both old and new.
Thank you for a wonderful gathering last Thursday. What a joy to all be together and to share ideas and experiences in such a friendly and welcoming space. It was good to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances. It was really refreshing and encouraging.

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