First Anna Chaplain for North Kent Methodists
Updated: Feb 11
On a snowy Sunday morning this week 267 people from across Kent’s Methodist Churches, and further afield, joined a live-streamed service in which Irene Shepherd was commissioned as the first Anna Chaplain in North Kent Methodist Circuit. We asked Irene to tell us about herself:
Hello everyone, let me introduce myself. I am a 68-year-old retired, single lady, living in Kent with my cat, Oscar. Before retirement, in 2012, I was an NHS medical secretary, working in mental health. I enjoyed my job, but retirement has given me the opportunity to do so many other things and I enjoy every day of it.
I was born in Kent and grew up in a village called Hempstead, about three miles from Gillingham. My faith has been a constant in my life but has grown and matured over the years. My great inspiration was my maternal grandmother, who lived with us when I was a child. Life hadn’t always been easy for her, but she never lost her faith in God. I went to Sunday school at the Congregational Chapel in the afternoons and attended the evening service with ‘Nanna’.
During the 80s I lived and worked in Bournemouth and it was at this time that I had my first introduction to the Methodist Church. Thirty years ago I moved to Barming, just outside Maidstone and began attending my local Methodist Church there.
I soon became very involved in church life and began to take an active role. In 2010 I began my training as a local preacher (for those unfamiliar with Methodism, a local preacher translates as lay preacher), undertaking a four-year part course to qualify.
I enjoy leading worship, but this wasn’t always the case. For some time I had resisted God’s call, I was quite a shy person and believed I would never have the confidence. It was a case of ‘you can’t want me God, I am not confident enough!’ However, I found that God can be very persistent and persuasive and I eventually gave in. What I discovered was that God never leaves you out in the cold – if there’s something he wants you to do, he will equip you for it. In the words of the old hymn, you just have to ‘trust and obey’. Gradually, l was given the confidence l needed, and it is a great privilege for me now to be able to serve God in this way.
Deciding to train as an Anna Chaplain was quite different. In fact, it was the answer to a prayer.
In 2000 my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and we moved in together so that I could be her carer. I’m an only child, so there was no one to share the task of caring, and by 2005 she was become increasingly infirm. After she’d spent a spell in hospital, I reluctantly, agreed for her to go into full-time care. Although she was well-cared for physically, l felt the spiritual needs of the residents was not very well addressed – in fact it was non-existent! I used to record services from the radio for Mum and we’d listen to them in her room when I visited.
Mum passed away in March 2005, but my concerns continued to haunt me. I wanted to be able to take the church to those who could no longer physically be in the building, but I had no idea how to do this. One Sunday morning, in late 2019, I walked into church and saw a leaflet about Anna Chaplaincy. I attended an information day run by Julia Burton-Jones, where I was introduced to Elizabeth Bryson, an Anna Chaplain in the local area. With Elizabeth’s help and guidance, I began going into one of the local care homes with her to lead worship.
Since the pandemic l have been offering a weekly act of worship over the telephone to the residents of this same care home. It has been an absolute joy and privilege to bring God’s love to them even in these difficult times, and to remind them that they are not forgotten and God loves them. It is a delight to hear them join in with a familiar hymn or the Lord’s Prayer, which they remember from way back!
My Anna Chaplaincy training was undertaken via Zoom in the summer of 2020, an excellent course, led by Julia Burton-Jones. Sunday 7 February l will be commissioned by Bonni-Belle Pickard, our Methodist Superintendent Minister for the Maidstone Circuit, during our weekly YouTube service. I look forward to continuing to be able to serve during the pandemic and beyond.
At the commissioning service, Circuit Superintendent Bonni-Belle Pickard shared reflections about Anna and Simeon welcoming Jesus in the temple, before interviewing both Irene and Julia Burton-Jones, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Kent. Watch it here.
Julia pointed out, 'Had we met in person to commission Irene, as we had planned in 2020, we would have battled difficult weather conditions, and the event would not have reached such a wide audience.'
Among the rousing songs included in the service was Marjorie Dobson’s 'Lord, you call us to your service'. The words summed up well the commitment Irene has made.
Lord, you call us to your service, each in our own way,
Some to caring, loving, healing, some to preach or pray.
Some to work with quiet learning, truth discerning day by day.
Life for us is always changing in the life we share,
Christian love adds new dimensions to the way we care
For we know that you could lead us anywhere.
Seeing life from your perspective makes your challenge plain.
As your heart is grieving over those who live in pain.
Teach us how by your compassion you may fashion hope again.
Lord, we set our human limits on the work we do.
Send us your directing Spirit, pour your power through,
That we may be free in living and in giving all for you.
There were wonderful words of support from across the North Kent Circuit posted in the chat facility, encouraging Irene in her new ministry as Anna Chaplain:
Thank you Bonni-Belle for that uplifting service. Blessings to Irene and for her work. (Derek and Pat)
Thank you for an insight to the Anna Chaplaincy and a lovely service. (Tricia)
Thank you Bonni-Belle and all who took part, to Irene well done and may God be with you. (Sheila)
Very interesting to hear about the work of the Anna Chaplaincy. Thank you. (Rosemary)
Thank you Bonni-Belle and all the team, God bless you Irene and may we each hear God's calling today. Amen (Elaine)
Congratulations Irene on your commissioning as Anna Chaplain for TRMC. You are already doing good job of it . May the Lord continue to bless you more and more. (Nellie)
Morning all! And congratulations to Irene – I know your ministry as an Anna Chaplain is already hugely appreciated. (Naomi Oates – Irene’s minister at Tonbridge Road Methodist in Maidstone)