Over 70 people from across the UK joined a webinar hosted by Methodist Learning Network’s Positively Rural group on 10 January to listen to Anna Chaplaincy training and development lead Julia Burton-Jones, and rural Anna Chaplains Wendy Wilson from Cumbria and Paul Fitzpatrick from Devon.
Among the participants were many Anna Chaplains based in rural settings, including Wendy’s colleagues from the Churches Together in Cumbria network. Anna Chaplaincy lead for Cumbria, Sam Pester, reflected afterwards: ‘What a superb webinar! I really enjoyed it. It was really interesting with excellent speakers.’
In advance of the webinar, participants were invited to view a video with Sally Rees, Anna Chaplain in rural Wales, speaking about her ministry in the Brecon Beacons. The webinar was recorded and can be viewed on YouTube here.
Julia talked about the Anna Chaplaincy model of ministry and how it can enable spiritual care for older people in rural communities. She quoted statistics from a Public Health England 2019 report predicting over 65s in rural communities will increase in number by 50% between 2019 and 2030, with negligible growth in the population under 65. Centre for Ageing Better 2021 research highlights the many benefits of ageing in rural areas – such as the slower pace of life, stronger social capital and higher levels of trust – but also identifies challenges which include problems with the housing stock which is largely older, pockets of social isolation, lack of transport and distance to health services.
Paul and Wendy reflected on the strong sense of community and mutual support in the villages and hamlets they support but highlighted the challenges for older people and for ministry alongside them. Wendy spoke about the problems for older people in managing medical appointments for long-term health conditions when the nearest hospital is a two-hour journey away. For some, she is the only person they will see all week, and so withstanding understandable pressure to stay longer than her planned one-hour visit must be handled sensitively. For Paul and Wendy, many hours are spent in the car traversing often dangerous and difficult country roads. Paul spoke about relationships with neighbours spanning decades and being very close, but also longstanding conflicts and tensions that can occur in very rural communities.
Julia reflected after the webinar on the vital role of rural Anna Chaplains. They enable older people to remain connected to church and community, facing particular challenges which they willingly overcome to bring love, hope and connection to isolated individuals.