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  • Debbie Thrower

First ever Anna Friends Gathering

Updated: Aug 12

We've met every year as a network of Anna Chaplains (and those in equivalent roles) and today we extended the invitation to volunteer Anna Friends to come and meet each other too!

Anna Chaplain and Story Chaplain Charlotte Evans prompts us to think of what words and sayings bring comfort

It had to be via Zoom but it was a good start – with 24 of us joining to worship, chat and discuss relevant topics together – from places as far afield as Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Essex.


One Anna Friend commented afterwards that it was 'encouraging, informative, supportive and generally helpful both for my role as an Anna Friend and personally. A morning filled with God's love, care and hope for us all.'


A common thread was the 'frustration' felt by many whose voluntary work has been hampered by the pandemic. They voiced the apprehensions and fears of those they visit – and so often have been prevented from visiting – on account of coronavirus. We heard of some whose physical and psychological health they had seen had deteriorated during the isolation of the last year and a half.


Common to many Anna Friends' experiences was that people are on a 'spectrum according to their personality and perceptions of risk'; some can't wait to get out and about seeing people and doing the things they once were used to, while others are almost 'paralysed by fear', their lives remaining circumscribed through having taken to heart the government's powerful messages to stay at home and save the NHS. Others are, of course, somewhere on a line in between these extremes but still lack sufficient social confidence to resume face-to-face activities in the same way they would have done pre-pandemic.


We heard, too, that although some care homes and other groups are in some cases 'crying out for more activities', not all volunteers are ready yet to venture out to the extent they once did. This is creating problems for people trying to plan and coordinate a volunteer response to demands for social events and enhanced interaction.


Much of the Gathering was spent describing ways in which we can engender hope and rebuild confidence, to persuade people to overcome natural caution, and start to trust that measures are in place to keep them safe as they begin to socialise once again.


'It feels too far too fast,' said one volunteer. Another expressed how 'people are very, very, fearful'. Another that 'the government's messaging has been so good, people are being very obedient. Churches too are cautious.' She added that a bishop's recent advice she'd received was 12 pages long, leaving her (and fellow church volunteers) 'bewildered, as we try to strike the right balance.'


Emily Kenward, founder and CEO of Time to Talk Befriending (also an Anna Chaplain), spoke of inviting her scheme members to share their experiences of the pandemic, and of the findings of this invitation to dig deep into how they really felt and tell their stories. The results are published in a report: Recovery and Reintegration.

Emily described how 89% of the 98 respondents lived alone, most were in their early 80s. 70% said their physical health had deteriorated as a result of extended lockdowns. She also spoke of a tension between scheme members reporting a reluctance to re-engage with people outside their four walls, and funders eager to hear examples of how social interactions had increased, and yet who were conscious that the charity's current and future plans should be based on 'what people actually say they want'. 'So we're standing our ground,' she said.


Comfort Words

Charlotte Evans, a keynote speaker at previous network gatherings, focused on our fundamental need for relationship and ways we can create 'meaningful moments of connection', even if it is by telephone, writing a letter or postcard or the gift of a small present.


She spoke of the power of 'comfort words', suggesting we each of have favourite words, ones loaded with significance for us, in particular. What might be yours? Not just obvious ones like peace, love, joy, but recipes, mottos, poems and sayings which are uniquely special to us and whether we share these with our closest friends and relatives so they know (not just what we might want said at our funeral) but understand better what truly makes us who we are?


Questions we might like to ask of those we support, so they can share what's on their heart, might be:

  • How might you like to make new memories?

  • What might you like to be doing now that you haven't been able to?

  • Is this a good time to start something new?

  • If getting out and about isn't possible for you, what can you do at home?

  • How do you spend your day... is there a highlight in your day?

(Photo credit: Robert D'Amico, Pixabay)


Worship - in words of lament for the past and trust for the future

Brian Dunlop (Cheltenham and Bishop's Cleeve) led the enriching times of worship, encouraging participants to write down their concerns while trusting God to meet us in our need, and then to cross out each concern, 'knowing God has heard your cry'.


Lament is about recognising that, 'This happened to us and there is still good in the world.'

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