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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Blue skies and blue-sky thinking at ‘Animating Seniors Groups’ conference in Westminster

Updated: May 4, 2023

Anna Chaplaincy joined forces with Caritas Westminster, Irish Chaplaincy and the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) for a day conference entitled ‘Animating Seniors Groups in the Diocese of Westminster’ on Thursday 20 April. More than 80 people came from all over London and Hertfordshire for the event held in Westminster Cathedral Hall, next to Westminster Cathedral.

Father Michael, ministering in London from Nigeria, and Debbie Thrower.

The Anna Chaplaincy team were out in force with Debbie Thrower giving the keynote address – ‘Cultivating hope in later life’.

Both Debbie Ducille and Julia Burton-Jones were giving talks in the afternoon on ‘Help for the journey’ and ‘Introducing the Spiritual Care Series resource and training’ respectively.

BRF’s church advocate lead Jane Butcher was manning the BRF bookstall and answering inquiries.

The sunflower was taken as the image for the conference for its attributes of faithfully following the sun (Son) and seeds, providing abundant goodness.

A legacy chart (below) of what people most wanted to follow up on in the wake of this day together showed sunflower stickers marking loneliness and social isolation as key issues. Out of the many hundreds of seniors groups operational pre-pandemic, some have been hard hit as a result of Covid in terms of a fall off of volunteers and a significant lack of confidence in resuming social engagements.

The day was opened by Bishop Paul McAleenan of the diocese of Westminster who spoke of older people’s need to be encouraged to be ‘agents of their own redemption’. There were case studies of effective ministry from around the country through the work of the Companions of the Order of Malta, SVP – celebrating 190 years of voluntary work among those who are poor, and marginalised – and Caritas Plymouth.

Debbie Ducille and Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Coordinator for the Diocese of Westminster

Feedback from the conference showed the day had been well worthwhile:

‘An impressive conference.’ ‘Very focused and relevant.’ ‘A great day, lots of opportunities to network.’ ‘A fantastic day to learn from experts’ knowledge and experience of providing pastoral care to our older brothers and sisters.’ ‘I am happy to learn there are so many organisations to assist and advise those who feel lonely and who desperately need support.’ ‘Wish I had brought some other volunteers with me! Very inspirational and thought provoking.’ ‘Interesting to see how many organisations work in the area of “caring for the elderly”.’ ‘Lovely to meet people from other parishes’.

There were calls for similar events to be staged in the future.

Roger Carr Jones, marriage and family coordinator for Westminster Diocese, has completed the six-week online Anna Chaplaincy training course and commended it warmly for its relevant content, and the way in which Julia leads each cohort of learners, drawn from a wide variety of different denominations.

He said that, given his recent experience of relatives living with dementia, the Holy Spirit had been at work in the timing of the course, and through important lessons learnt, that he’d been able to apply in his own circumstances.

Bishop Paul Mason

Bishop Paul Mason, bishop of the Forces, and a former Hospital Chaplain, spent the whole day among delegates and he gave a comprehensive and moving round-up of reflections on different facets of the day. Bishop Paul was praised by attendees for his ‘thought-provoking summary’ at what had been ‘a really worthwhile event’.

Julia Burton-Jones and Jane Butcher



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