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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

First Anna Chaplain for Essex

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

The new Anna Chaplain for Leigh on Sea in Essex is Eileen Simmons. Eileen (pictured in the centre wearing a red scarf) is a Methodist local preacher and Anna Chaplain at Wesley Methodist Church in the town, near Southend.

Organisers behind a service 'In Celebration of the Contribution of Older People' at Wesley Methodist Church, Leigh on Sea

She was commissioned by her pastor, Steve Mayo, at the weekend, on Sunday 3 November, just after returning from the Anna Chaplaincy annual Gathering in Hertfordshire. Eileen wrote to me and Alex Burn, Anna Chaplaincy Coordinator, to say: ' The conference was amazing and so good to meet you both. I look forward to next year!'

A happy coincidence is that Eileen's church, Wesley Methodist Church, is where one of the co-founders of Anna Chaplaincy, the Revd Keith Underhill (formerly the Methodist minister in Alton, Hampshire, and now Methodist Circuit Superintendent based in Wantage, Oxfordshire) used to worship as a youngster!

The Revd Keith Underhill and Debbie Thrower pictured at a training day at Wantage Methodist Church, Oxfordshire. Keith was Debbie's line manager when Anna Chaplaincy was pioneered in Alton, Hampshire

Eileen explained: 'I feel called to become an Anna Chaplain as all my training and experience has led me to want to belong to a group of like-minded people, who learn from each other and support each other. I also am used to the discipline of being accountable for my work and recording activity and reflecting on my work. Reflection supports improvement. The disciplined structure of Anna Chaplaincy attracts me. I am now at the stage of commitment and am delighted now to have been licensed by BRF and now commissioned.'


One of Eileen's first tasks in her new role has been to devise a special service. 'We called it a Celebration of the Contribution of Older People,' said Eileen. 'Every effort had been made to ensure that all our older people were in church. Some find it difficult to attend regularly, but most were involved in some way.

'There had been extended visits in the previous weeks to their homes to learn more about their life stories, and these were a delight, learning more as we did about their activities past and present. Although we were not able to use all the requests, we did include favourite hymns and Bible readings, down to such detail as a music group singing ‘For the beauty of the earth’ to the John Rutter tune.'

Boxing coach

'There was a large congregation, and it was a joyous occasion as we honoured all that had been contributed in the past and in so many cases is continuing. Not many churches have a boxing coach still active well into his 80s, working with local youth in a town-centre club!

'One of the highlights was when three pastoral visitors spoke about three particular elderly ladies and related their life stories in their absence; it was just so moving and fascinating. What Christian blessings have been shown by these individuals in our Wesley family.'

Wealth of experience

'Our minister, Pastor Steve Mayo, spoke of the celebration not only being about what older people had contributed in the past, but also a celebration of what they can still contribute to church life both present and in the future. Their wealth of experience and knowledge has been, and can still be, such a gift to the church and the younger generations, and would be sorely missed if not utilised.'

Job 32:7 (NIV): 'Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.'

Personal statement

Reflecting on her calling, Eileen wrote to say this by way of a 'personal statement':

  • I felt called to work with those living with dementia after my best friend was diagnosed in 2012, but it was not until May 2018 that I actually volunteered at Memory House, Leigh on Sea, Essex. Before that I became a Dementia Friend and did lots of reading and learning.

  • I can wax enthusiastic and with great pleasure about my weekly visits to engage with residents at Memory House, which simply get better and better. I feel the more I do the work, the more interesting and helpful it is to me, and residents seem to enjoy the interaction. Staff value my visits.

  • As a retired secondary head teacher, I have many areas in which I volunteer, as well as still doing a little paid work as an educational consultant.

  • I have been retired from full-time work for 22 years, but in the early years I was vice chair of Essex Strategic Health Authority, at the same time as training and assessing head teachers and this totalled a full-time job.

  • The health experience taught me the roles of advocate for the elderly and in my church, Wesley Methodist, Leigh on Sea, I am pastoral coordinator, which involves me in leading a team of pastoral visitors. Personally I am putting more emphasis on the very elderly.

We wish Eileen all the very best in her ministry!



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