Every stitch tells a story – a quilt 'handmade with love'
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
The Anna Chaplaincy team in Chichester are going to miss Deborah Hennessy! Coordinator Alex Burn and I first met Deborah, who has just stepped down from the Chichester steering group, at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire. She had badgered us to be permitted to come to our invitation-only annual Gathering for members of the network that year. In the end her persistence paid off and we thought, 'Well, if she is that keen, she'd better to join us…'
That was in 2016, and throughout the conference she sat with pen and paper making copious notes. Deborah was doing what I suspect she has done throughout her career in the public sector: a thorough job, breaking new ground.
Chichester launched within a year
Soon she had teamed up with David Cooke, and the pair have been an impressive force in the West Sussex cathedral city. Within less than a year, Chichester Anna Chaplaincy was launched. LouLou Morris is the Anna Chaplain there with more than 20 volunteer Anna Friends now working along with her.
David has encouraged reflective practice and research, including a survey of Anna Friends in Chichester by Toby Boutle, which referred to a particular spiritual need for comfort and peace among those they visit. As to the cause of a restlessness, sometimes, among those visited who are living with dementia: 'resentments from earlier periods of life' can be very immediate: 'If people are inhabiting more and more their earlier years and experiences – then past resentments and unresolved conflicts are bound to manifest themselves and be part of that person’s spiritual predicament.'
One Anna Friend said, 'We are seeing a lot of people… who have no connection with Chichester: they have been uprooted and brought here and it has been for the convenience of their relatives – and the end result is that these dear folk have lost some of the key storm anchors in their lives.'
Dementia, or extreme old age and resulting social dislocation, can mean that people face a crisis of identity and meaning in life. That may be connected to a loss of control or a feeling of a lack of social usefulness; as humans, we are fundamentally creative beings, and our spiritual needs include self-expression and participation.
Low self-esteem was mentioned by most Anna Friends among those they see: 'The sense of value may be very poor; if we could affirm their sense of self-worth, that would be amazing.' One remarked on 'how ashamed especially men are by this sense of being useless, even if they cannot articulate it'.
Most spoke, therefore, of seeking to bring peace and a sense of value. One, though, added that we might be 'able to recognise that there is something spiritually healthy in that sense of unworthiness: this is spiritually a good place, if I can work on it – because we realise that before God all of us is impure and imperfect. The danger is that we despair, but if we ask God, then this is an opportunity to turn to God.'
We are not just 'professionals in uniform with a notebook' and, in contrast to overworked staff, 'we have the luxury of sitting there – no pressure, no time frame'.
The farewell party for Deborah included the presentation of the patchwork quilt, which has panels reflecting something personal to Deborah's life including some of the places Anna Chaplaincy now reaches in the community.
Complete with a celebration cake decorated with the Anna Chaplaincy logo, the party was much appreciated by Deborah, who declared: 'My farewell function was so very special and I certainly felt very cherished. David wrote a wonderful poem and, yes, LouLou was instrumental in creating the very beautiful patchwork quilt.'
High Leigh, Hertfordshire
This year's Gathering will be at High Leigh in Hertfordshire at the end of October, and Deborah's valuable contribution will be conspicuous by its absence. 'I will be thinking of you all during the annual conference and praying that all involved are enriched and nourished,' she said.