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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Bishop commissions eleven more Anna Chaplains for Devon

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

The bishop of Exeter, Rt Revd Robert Atwell, spoke of the loneliness of so many people in their later years. Praising Anna Chaplaincy, he described the need to reach out to the most isolated as he conducted a special service on Sunday afternoon (13 March 2022) at St David's Church in the city.

Licensed lay minister (reader) Debbie Thrower, the pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy, preached at the service at which ten women and one man were commissioned. They join an initial cohort of six Anna Chaplains and two Anna Friends commissioned in Plymouth last November.

Bishop Robert is author of The Contented Life: Spirituality and the gift of years, (Canterbury Press, 2011) which explores retirement as 'a time to discover the essence of life' and an opportunity 'to bring inner coherence to our lives and healing to fragmented relationships.'

In her sermon, Debbie spoke of how she was brought up in Devon and her parents grew old in the county. She explained how art and poetry can be powerful aids to understanding our 'true selves'.

Bishop Robert's book, she noted, quotes from poets such as T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas, to mention just a few.

'It's good to see that while so many dioceses are about "growing younger" and that's where the majority of resources are spent – on mission among children and young families – in Devon, the leadership is demonstrating how it can be about both. Older people do matter just as much as the young.'

Debbie outlined the top priorities of Devon's Health and Wellbeing Strategy for 2020 to 2025:

  • To create opportunities for all ('and "all" surely means the old as well as the young?')

  • To build healthy, safe, strong and sustainable communities

  • To focus on mental health – building good emotional health and wellbeing, happiness and resilience.

Debbie said: 'Anna Chaplains are for people of older years and their carers – they're seeking to meet spiritual needs; paying attention to the stuff that makes us who we are, what we reach out to beyond ourselves, what gives us meaning and purpose, and builds resilience. I hope that where you lead as a diocese (and ecumenically)… neighbouring counties will follow.'

Citing Simeon and Anna as good role models of faithful older people, Debbie asserted: 'I don't think God loses interest in us as we age. Becoming spiritually mature is a fine goal for us to have.'

St David's Church dates from 1900. Its incumbent, prebendary Nigel Guthrie welcomed everyone at the start of the 3.00 pm service which was attended by senior clergy from the city and many supporters of those commissioned. They had come from all over the county. Tea was served afterwards, with celebratory cupcakes, and plenty of chance to chat and greet friends.

Anna Chaplain, Annie Jefferies, is coordinating the growth of the Anna Chaplaincy network in Devon. She was given the task by Bishop Robert as part of the diocesan vision and priorities for older people around combatting isolation and growing disciples.

Those commissioned on Sunday were:

Kaye Harris – St James the Great, Slapton

Diana MacDowall – St Eustachius, Tavistock

Andy Jane – St Budeaux, Plymouth

Maurie Webbie – All Saints, Okehampton

Lesley Phillips-Cannon – St Michael and All Angels, Alphington

Maslen Collings – All Saints and St John the Evangelist, Exmouth

Joyce Capello – St John the Baptist, Paignton

Hazel Murkin – Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay

Eileen Brassington – Holy Cross, Crediton

Revd Sue Blade – St Nicholas and St Cyriac, South Pool

Rosemary Minshall – St Peter's, Stoke Fleming




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