From Anna Friend to Anna Chaplain!
Updated: Feb 3
Jennie Cuthbert has switched from being a supportive Anna Friend to a fully fledged Anna Chaplain in her part of Kent. There was a commissioning service for her on Sunday 26 January at St Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells.
She had been commissioned at the same church as an Anna Friend back in 2017, but was commissioned as an Anna Chaplain at the weekend by the Bishop of Tonbridge, the Right Revd Simon Burton-Jones. At an informal café service, Jennie was supported by about 50 friends, spanning several parishes.
Jennie's new role covers two parishes in Tunbridge Wells – St Mark’s and King Charles the Martyr. She has worked with Anna Chaplaincy colleagues pioneering a Sunday afternoon service called Hope, aimed at those living with dementia and other long-term conditions. It was originally at the retreat centre, Burrswood, before it closed. Two parishes then offered Hope a home – St James, Tunbridge Wells, and All Saints, Langton Green – and it now takes place on the first Sunday of the month at St James, and third Sunday at All Saints, with Jennie involved in setting up the St James service.
The vicar at King Charles who also oversees St Mark, the Revd Laurence Powell, happens to have been a pupil of Jennie’s when she was a maths teacher!
During the service, Jennie spoke movingly about her calling to Anna ministry. She is involved in care home ministry and also visits people in their own homes. In his address, Bishop Simon looked at what is distinctive about the work of Anna Chaplains – named after the window Anna in Luke's gospel – within our contemporary context.
He referred to the importance of 'personal identity' to us today; of how we once were 'defined by class, but now there are so many different ways of understanding ourselves'. He described 'an edginess around personal identity, driven by lots of factors', including the way extended families have dispersed and ways in which we are more individualistic, and talked of how 'a media culture of fame that celebrates people who are well known, has less well-known people reaching for their own sense of worth'.
He compared that edginess with how the issue of personal identity is that much harder for someone living with dementia, 'as their whole sense of self is challenged and assaulted. That’s where Anna Chaplains come in.'
Coming alongside people with dementia
Bishop Simon said that the Anna of the Bible's qualities were: 'Self-discipline, the ability to listen, the value of presence. These are the qualities we need in people who come alongside those living with dementia. Dementia may be the most challenging of diseases, but people live better with it when those around them care for them and listen carefully to what they say and feel, without dismissing their words because they don’t seem to make sense.
'Thank God Jennie is taking this step today,' he said. 'She will bless many, and be blessed herself, by the experience of waiting with those whose own waiting for the kingdom of God is nearing its conclusion.'