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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Church of England votes for Anna Chaplaincy (with film clip)

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

There was a unanimous vote in the Church of England parliament, General Synod, on Tuesday for churches to develop Anna Chaplaincy across their parishes.

The moment Synod voted - streamed live on the Church of England website

Responding to a motion tabled by Rochester Diocese, presented by Kent Anna Chaplain and lay Synod member Angela Scott, speaker after speaker rose in support of Anna Chaplaincy. Watch the debate (Tuesday morning, 9 July), at 2:28:00 as it happened:

Dementia cafe

A film clip of a dementia cafe in Chislehurst, Kent, with interviews with those involved in Anna Chaplaincy and the team who run it was shown in the auditorium.

Speaking from personal experience of visiting those living with dementia, 'It's long overdue,' said Izzy Macdonald-Booth from Newcastle. ‘Anna Chaplaincy encourages that important spiritual care and patience of sitting alongside people.’


The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Revd Robert Atwell, reminded people of the 'terrible poverty' of loneliness which 'gnaws at the soul', explaining that Devon is second only to Dorset as the county with the oldest population. He said that in 2011 the government predicted that over the next 15 years the population of Devon was set to rise by over 20 percent, with a hidden time-bomb that the proportion of those 70 and over was set to increase by 54 percent. This represents 'a huge challenge,' he said.

His diocese had been 'preparing for this by seeing how we can respond creatively and imaginatively', including 'the development of a network of Anna Chaplain across our county’.

I was sitting behind the Chair listening to the debate from the platform with the Bishop of Rochester (left) and Julia Burton-Jones, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester and Canterbury (right).

Birthplace of Anna Chaplaincy

The vicar of Alton, the Revd Andrew Micklefield, giving his maiden speech as a Synod member, longed for Alton to one day be as famous as the birthplace of Anna Chaplaincy as it is for its links with Jane Austen, for the Watercress Line steam railway and for Alton Abbey as a retreat centre.

He challenged every Synod member to think: How can my diocese, my deanery, my parish look not only at dementia but other issues and joys older people face in their communities? What can we do to provide for them through the many ways in which Anna Chaplaincy reaches out to, and draws alongside them, showing the love and grace of God?

'We were so thrilled when The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) came alongside us, and I believe God’s Holy Spirit has got hold of this thing called Anna Chaplaincy. If the Holy Spirit has got hold of it, who are we to stand in its way?' he concluded, as he wholeheartedly commended the motion.


Marian Nicholson, Lay Synod member from Canterbury, also used her maiden speech to tell the moving story of her own father Arthur's experience of dementia. 'He did suffer a lot,' she said, adding, 'I’m so pleased to hear more about Anna Chaplaincy and that it is coming to my own diocese.'

Time allotted to the debate allowed nine speakers to commend the motion, which raised 'deep theological questions about what it means to be human,' said Nick Land, lay member from York, 'and for many it is just too painful to think about.' But, he said, 'Christian compassion as shown by Anna Chaplaincy is about moving towards pain not fleeing from it.’ He argued that 'dementia is where the rubber hits the road' and warned that statistically 'as carers and sufferers it will almost certainly affect us'.

Press coverage

Both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail picked up on the story – especially the news that Anna Chaplains, typically, give a day a week or more as volunteers (though some are in paid posts) and included these articles on pages 9 and 14 of their Wednesday papers respectively:

Archbishops listening

As the first Anna Chaplain in Alton, who has seen this expansion since joining BRF in 2014, it was a particularly proud moment to hear to the well-prepared and articulated debates – with Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu also listening in the hall at York University – and to see a forest of hands shoot up in a unanimous show of support when the vote was finally called. The Chair said, 'That is clearly passed.'

Such affirmation, following a fringe meeting the day before – attended by two dozen people including four bishops, one of whom, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Revd James Newcome, is the the Church of England's lead spokesman on health – is so welcome.

Bishops of Winchester and Carlisle,far left, join others including Angela Scott (far right, who proposed the motion) at an Anna Chaplaincy fringe meeting

Julia and I turned to one another after yesterday's vote and she declared, 'Anna Chaplaincy has come of age.'

General Synod July 2019, York University

To request your copy of Anna Chaplaincy in Rochester Diocese: A blueprint for other dioceses across the UK, please send us your full name and address:


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