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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Debbie joins Devon's Anna Chaplains for the first in-person get-together in person post-pandemic

Anna Chaplains Annie Jefferies (Devon coordinator) and Ellen Holah (St Matt's Exeter) and pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy Debbie Thrower

St Matt's Church's Anna Chaplain Ellen Holah was on the steps to greet us as her church played host to about 25 of us. Many chaplains had come from the furthest reaches of the county.

St Matt's is a new 'church plant'. In 2019 the Church Revitalisation Trust (CRT) with support from the Church of England’s Strategic Development Funding (SDF), welcomed a new team from across the HTB – Holy Trinity Brompton Network to transform St Matt's and focus particularly on mission towards young families, youth and students. It's especially gratifying that the church leadership has also captured the vision to reach out to older people in the community under Ellen's guidance.

Pastor Ed Hodges joined us for the afternoon and explained how that morning the central carpeted space had been full of toddlers, 'lots of cake crumbs everywhere as young parents brought their children to the church, and this afternoon we're now able to welcome so many Anna Chaplains, people working across Devon with folk in their senior years.'

Annie Jeffries, pastor Revd Ed Hodges and Ellen Holah

The afternoon began with a 30-minute service of Holy Communion and a short talk from the Archdeacon of Exeter, the Venerable Andrew Beane, who highlighted the faithfulness of the widow Anna whose story is told in Luke 2.

It was the first time the Anna Chaplains –and one or two Anna Friends who volunteer alongside them – had had the opportunity to meet together in person.

We noticed how the Order of Service was annotated with simple symbols denoting when to sit or stand, to pray or sing... a small detail but one so easy to introduce and that makes church services far easier to follow for someone living with dementia (or anybody for that matter!).

Each participant was given a small folded cross from a piece of an old Ordnance Survey map to signify the journey of our life with God.

I brought news to the gathering (writes Debbie Thrower) of the many Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends newly commissioned in places up and down the country; most recently in Kendal in the Lake District, Alton in Hampshire and Petts Wood in Kent.

We talked about the value of hub meetings for chaplains for mutual support, and how vital it is to have good supervision given chaplains are so often at the 'sharp end' of pastoral work, hearing many memories and sharing feelings of sorrow and loss.

North Devon-based Anna Chaplain-in-training Paul Fitzpatrick (researcher, priest and doctor of psychology, who has led a university chaplaincy team) told us about his current research. Having returned to Devon after a gap of about 17 years, he'd noticed how much community life had changed. With some part-funding from Exeter Diocese, Paul is looking at 'micro-communities' in his own rural context and most significantly identifying the sorts of people who 'slip through the cracks'; losing any real sense of belonging as society changes… particularly those who once derived their 'self-identity' from their agricultural work and associated friendship networks.

Paul promised to report back on his findings when his research is complete and in the meantime to supply us with reviews of the current books he is consulting during his explorations.

Of the online Anna Chaplaincy training Paul is currently pursuing, he was especially complimentary; saying how much he is 'learning and getting out' of the eight-week course led by Julia Burton-Jones. High praise, indeed, from someone with his wealth of experience in the chaplaincy field.

'Anna Chaplaincy is an answer to prayer', added Paul Fitzpatrick

We rounded off the get-together by all watching a clip from a recent talk that Professor John Swinton gave at our online briefing for the new Spiritual Care Series course BRF is making available. A group of chaplains is keen to follow the course in Devon.

We talked about the importance of being 100% present with people in pastoral visits and the role that 'imitation' plays in signifying to someone we're with that they not only matter to us but that we're giving them our undivided attention. You can watch the entire briefing with John's talk here:




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