Church Times profiles an Anna Chaplain
Margaret Hollands, one of the first Anna Chaplains in Kent, has been interviewed by Church Times in an extensive article across the back page: 'Jesus never turned away people who were ill or on the fringe of society, and nor should we. I hope, if dementia came to us, that there would be people there to take care of us, as we try to do that for others now.'
A former teacher who had experience of dementia when her own father was diagnosed, Margaret is based at Hoo St Werbugh near Rochester. She has been a Reader (or Licensed Lay Minister) in the Church of England for more than 20 years.
Margaret describes how her work as an Anna Chaplain has adapted since restrictions were imposed because of coronavirus:
Now we’re all having to adapt and be creative in how we support people. Although it’s possible to use technology to keep in touch, by holding virtual coffee mornings using Zoom, and holding services using WhatsApp or YouTube, and we’re meeting regularly as a ministry team via WhatsApp, this isn’t always possible for some of those we’d normally visit.
When we sent out our first letter about the church closing, we included names and phone numbers of the ministry team and others who could be contacted, showing that the church is still there for people. All our congregation and those we visit receive at least one phone call a week from one of the ministry team.
We’ve delivered service leaflets for use on a Sunday, emailing those who can receive them that way, keeping in touch by phone with people who can’t. We’re keeping in contact with our care homes; collecting prescriptions or getting shopping; and praying for everyone.
We’re a good team, and, although learning all the new technology has been a steep learning curve for me, a lot of people are joining in. People all realise that this is what we have to do to keep safe and beat this virus.
I don’t think there has been a conscious neglect of elderly people during this crisis. I’m part of the local Dementia Action Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Society: we often petition our MPs to look at care homes and dementia issues, and I always get replies. I think they are addressing them, but we don’t always hear what’s going on.
When this is over, though, more people may appreciate the needs of our elderly community who live alone and are housebound, because they’ll have experienced the feelings of isolation and not being able to see family and friends.
Taking funerals now is one of the hardest things, though I really try to make sure I’m giving the same standard of care. We have to do all the planning and gathering information by email and phone calls. You can’t put the personal touch to the service, or give the family a hug or handshake, and they will be sitting far apart from each other, not even able to hold each other’s hands.
It’s also difficult for the families who can’t say goodbye to their loved ones properly. In many cases, they’re unable to attend the service; so I’ve put together a funeral service that I can email them that they can use at home.
On a rather lighter note, when asked who she would like to be locked in a church with, Margaret replied: 'I’d love to have my five-year-old grandson with me. But one of my favourite books is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë; so perhaps Jane. She didn’t have an easy life, but she never gave up, and always looked forward to what might come. Even with all that befell her, she stayed strong and focused, and came out even stronger in the end.'
Margaret Hollands was interviewed by Terence Handley MacMath, 10 July 2020.