• Debbie Thrower

Devon's first Anna Chaplain

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

Anna Chaplain Gerald Cash with supporters following his commissioning at the weekend

Anna Chaplaincy has reached one of the country's retirement hotspots, South Devon. Devon boasts the second oldest population in the UK, according to the Bishop of Exeter, Robert Atwell, who said he wanted to see 'a network of Anna Chaplains across the county' in his speech to General Synod in July. He spoke of how the countryside can be a lonely place, as well as beautiful. ‘Loneliness gnaws at the soul,’ he said.

It is just over a year since Gerald Cash and I first met on a course I was running for Exeter Diocese on 'Leading Worship in Care Homes' and on Sunday 8 September he was commissioned as an Anna Chaplain in Paignton, Torbay – the first Anna Chaplain in Devon. Joanna Bound is already a network member, coordinating worship in care homes in Plymouth.

Annie Jefferies (Chair of the House of Laity, Diocesan Synod), Father Roger Carlton, Gerald Cash (Anna Chaplain) and Debbie Thrower (Pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy)

Sunday's service at St John the Baptist, Paignton, was conducted by his incumbent, the Revd Roger Carlton. He told the parish Eucharist congregation that Gerald's commissioning was part of the 'jigsaw' of developing more ministry among older people in the town, which has 52 care homes, out of which seven are being visited by his own and churches of other denominations in the community.

A bid is being prepared to Church Commissioners for funding for a 'Torbay Outreach' plan, which would include two additional paid Anna Chaplaincy posts. 'Paignton, despite its image as a resort, is quite a deprived area,' he said, adding that as we celebrated Gerald's commissioning, parishioners would also be hearing more in coming weeks about Anna Friends and the ways such volunteers working with the chaplain could help increase the ways in which older people and carers are supported in the area.

St John the Baptist Church, Paignton, Devon

Gerald, who is a trained psychotherapist, said older people were 'a gift' and had so much to offer the wider community. His is a part-time, volunteer role. So far, he has been focusing his efforts for some time at Primley Court care home. He looked forward to expanding his work, especially among those living with dementia and other men and women in residential care, especially those who are most lonely.

Preaching at the service, I reminded hearers that 'the British population, generally, is getting older – with 18% of people 65 and over'. I described Anna Chaplains as 'modern-day navigators, helping men and women facing the challenges of older age – loneliness, shrinking horizons and serial losses – to navigate the choppy waters of growing old in our rapidly changing 21st century; they are at the forefront of helping people in their later years (and their carers) express their hopes and fears.

'Part of understanding ourselves, and others, on this journey (this adventure) of ageing, involves reflecting on our personal spirituality… on what truly matters to us, what takes us out of ourselves, if you like!'

I added, 'Today you have taken a vital first step in challenging the status quo and putting the ignored centre-stage.'