‘In the last month or so, there seems to have been a flurry of conferences and webinars on offer’, writes Debbie Ducille, Anna Chaplaincy’s church lead.
‘While Debbie Thrower was sharing teaching and reflecting with ordinands at St Mellitus and at the AGM of Christians on Ageing, I was attending several online offerings, to maintain awareness of issues and offerings across a broad spectrum of charities and denominations.
‘These included joining the befriending charity, Linking Lives, at their online Annual Conference. MP Kim Leadbeater (sister of murdered MP Jo Cox) offered her reflections on the continuing need to rebuild community and togetherness, in a society where no one is immune from the experience of loneliness. Later on, those present heard from Evangelical Alliance’s Phil Knox, who spoke movingly about the power of friendship. His book The Best of Friends may be of interest, as might Friends by Robin Dunbar, a fascinating exploration of how friendship positively impacts our physical, emotional and mental health, whilst loneliness has just the reverse effect. We ignore this at our peril…
‘Later that week a rich discussion, initiated by the Church of England, took place online, facilitated by Bishop Mike Harrison, entitled “Becoming more diverse: faithful intention or mere aspiration?” I attended with ears open regarding Christian community generally (for research!) but also for reflections on ageism of which, sadly, there were none… Discussions around race, gender and socio-economic diversity – all hugely important areas – were offered with great sensitivity. The final reflection – ‘Diversity is a matter of justice, a matter of life and death’ left me with questions as to how older people of all backgrounds might be treated justly and with mercy in our communities.
‘Sixty people a week now die alone in the UK: this was a shocking statistic quoted at a Saint Vincent de Paul webinar I also joined, discussing the End-of-Life Companionship Project. This project offered training to 230 volunteers over three years, in collaboration with The Art of Dying Well Project (St Mary’s Twickenham). Key relational skills were developed in accompanying individuals with sensitivity and awareness in their last days, and volunteers were requested by Marie Curie for support in some London hospitals.
‘The demand for this important ministry highlights again a recurrent theme that we often experience in Anna Chaplaincy, of both the great need but also the great privilege of being present and attending the dying, particularly when others around them are caught up with clinical care or personal grief. It was of real encouragement to hear that some doctors and nurses also took the course.’