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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Celebrating lay ministry in London and the South East

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


An event to celebrate lay ministry at St Augustine’s College in West Malling, Kent, provided an opportunity to spread the word about Anna Chaplaincy.


Julia Burton-Jones (BRF’s training and development lead for Anna Chaplaincy, and Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester and Canterbury Dioceses) led two workshops on 13 May to help participants explore the role of lay ministers in offering spiritual care to older people through Anna Chaplaincy. Anna Chaplain Caroline Ramshaw also attended the event; her ministry is within a very rural benefice near Faversham in Kent.

The train strike prevented some of the 60 participants from coming on the day, but those who were present expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn, share and network with one another. Learners were drawn from the three dioceses with which St Augustine’s is linked (Rochester, Canterbury and Chichester) but also represented a wider geographical area. Lay ministry leads in Southwark and London Dioceses came to the Anna Chaplaincy workshop, having heard good things about this pioneering approach to supporting older people.


The keynote address was given by Church of England head of lay ministries, Jo Henderson-Merrygold. Jo spoke about Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit as interrupting.

She encouraged lay ministers to see their role as voices that interrupt, that shake churches out of complacency. She said that this requires sensitivity, as interruptions are not easily tolerated, especially by those who are living under stress. We need to care for one another while creating the space for disruption. We must practice self-care alongside a willingness to be interrupted. Jo said there is a risk of lay ministers being too ‘nice’, unwilling to rock the boat, but sometimes they need to break in and break through while remaining compassionate.

Discussions facilitated by Julia Burton-Jones in the two workshops on Anna Chaplaincy found both groups willing to disrupt the status quo in churches where older people’s spiritual needs are neglected. They lamented the lack of attention given to later life challenges and opportunities in their local contexts as churches focus on ‘growing younger’. Several felt strongly drawn to ministry with older people and are exploring a calling to Anna Chaplaincy.


The day ended with a panel discussion, to which Julia contributed. The status quo in some churches represented seemed to need disrupting, with lay ministry undervalued.

Even within lay ministry, some felt pastoral ministry was considered a lowlier role. Happily, in other places lay ministers reported a sense of being equal partners in leading the church.

Anna Chaplains hold advocacy as a key responsibility. Advocating for older people whose voices might not otherwise be heard is a key role. When this interrupts the flow of church life and disrupts ageist ideas and practices that exclude older people, we welcome the opportunity to make space for Holy Spirit-driven change and challenge!


 

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