In honour of International Day of Older Persons we're putting the spotlight on one of our Anna Chaplains in the north-east - Margaret Weaver.
Margaret is a lay reader in the village of Shilbottle, an ex-mining village just outside Alnwick. Her diocese, Newcastle, has been exploring Anna Chaplaincy for four years or so, and in 2019 she led one of two Anna Chaplaincy training courses in the area. As a result of these courses, this group were among an amazing 34 new Anna Chaplains commissioned at a service in Morpeth on 2 February 2020, the same day that Anna Chaplaincy celebrated its 10th anniversary at a special Candlemas Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
Find out what Margaret's doing in the Diocese of Newcastle:
We’re running the Anna Chaplaincy course online this autumn, from 1 October. Two of us will lead it – there’s already a lot of video content in the course so people will be able to watch that at their leisure and then come together for 40 minutes online to discuss and do the exercises around it. Bearing in mind that the diocese covers quite a large geographical area, finding a central point that everyone can get to comfortably, eight weeks in a row, is increasingly difficult, particularly when people don’t have transport.
We don’t have a care home in Shilbottle, but there is a care home in one of the other villages in the benefice, Warkworth. Because of their age, there are quite a few people who couldn’t manage to get out in time for a 10.00 am service – it just takes them a bit longer to get going in the morning. So I started a monthly afternoon church so once a month on a Thursday afternoon we have a short service. We don’t call it Messy Vintage, but we usually do a bit of craft or something along those lines as part of the service and then afterwards we have a cup of tea – everybody brings something and there’s always far more than we can eat, but we all sit round and have a good natter.
Normally I do home communions and visit people, but during this lockdown I’ve been involved in developing prayer-cum-worship leaflets for the care home. People have been on their own in their rooms during these six months, so the leaflets are designed for individual use. We’ve just had to hand them in at the care home door.
Parish-wise, we’ve divvied up all the people connected to the church and we each have a list of people we ring every week for a chat, and to see if they need anything. We’ve also discovered telephone-conferencing! So, on a Sunday morning, since the churches have been allowed to reopen, we’re still having a Zoom service for those who don’t want to come out, and by using the telephone conferencing we can make the Zoom service available to those who don’t have the internet. Particularly with older people, a lot of them don’t have access to the internet so the telephone conferencing is really useful. Once a month on a Monday morning we have a service for four or five people in our old people’s bungalows and yesterday morning I used telephone conferencing for that. It means everyone can join in and you can have someone doing the reading and someone else doing the prayers and it’s just on the phone, nothing scary. It doesn’t work so well for the singing, that’s the only thing, because the sound echoes all around. We deliver the service sheets beforehand.
I’ve also used telephone conferencing for the monthly afternoon church and last month we had 20 people on the call. Again my husband and I delivered the service sheets beforehand, and we also deliver small packages with a serviette, a teabag and an individually wrapped cake so they can still have their ‘shared’ tea after the service. I think they appreciated the cake more than anything else we’ve done. It really made them feel they’re still part of things.
We are in the process of setting up a ‘coffee and chat’ by telephone conferencing, and the benefice also provides a ‘tea and talk’ via zoom.
I think we’re going to be working like this for a long time – there are a lot of people who are not ready to start going out again. They want to be absolutely sure that it’s safe before they venture out. Others are saying they’re not going to church if they can’t sing. But despite the isolation, relationships are growing – dropping off the service sheets can open up the way for a socially distanced conversation which probably wouldn’t have happened before.
Being part of a group of people all working hard together has been really encouraging – we are giving out, but we’re getting a lot back and we’re supporting each other with ministers’ Zoom calls and phone calls. We all keep in good touch with each other. We’re seeing each other regularly online and we’re seeing people’s hair growing – and changing colour in some instances! – so there’s a real sense of being in this together.
Read more interviews with our fine team of Anna Chaplains highlighted on the BRF website.