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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

How a 'beautiful vision' led to becoming an Anna Chaplain

Elizabeth Robertson, Steph Perfitt, Bishop Simon and Helen Reeves

Julia Burton-Jones describes how it was a warm Monday evening in August when friends, relatives and supporters of Steph Perfitt gathered at St Mary Magdalene Church in Longfield for her commissioning as Anna Chaplain with the Rural North West Kent (RNWK) group of churches in Rochester Diocese.

'It was the culmination of much prayer, training and preparation, and proved a joyful occasion.'

Steph was commissioned by Simon Burton-Jones, bishop of Tonbridge. During the service, she was interviewed by Julia, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester Diocese (and training and development lead for Anna Chaplaincy at BRF). Julia asked Steph about her calling to ministry with older people, what she felt made Anna Chaplaincy a distinctive form of ministry, the benefits of being linked with other Anna Chaplains and how members of the churches might support her.

Steph was supported at the service by the ministry team, with Rev Helen Reeves leading the prayers and Rev Elizabeth Robertson preaching about Anna and Simeon’s encounter with the infant Jesus described in Luke 1. Elizabeth is also Anna Chaplain in the ministry team of the RNWK Group, and Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester Archdeaconry.

She said:

'Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could meet Anna and listen to what she has to teach us about living faithfully and drawing closer to God? We may be 2,000 years too late for that, but there are still many other Annas (and Simeons) today, if only we look for them.'

Steph reflected on her commissioning, saying,

'For me this new role as an Anna Chaplain is like receiving the jewel in the crown! 'Over the past seven years I have found myself constantly in the presence and company of older people, whether for church, the community or work. It all began when I joined St Mary Magdalene Church Longfield in 2015 and was given the role and responsibility of the pastoral care which I thoroughly enjoyed. In 2018, I enrolled on the licensed lay ministry course and after studying for roughly two and half years I began to see how God had moved me further into the work and ministry with older people, not just to those within our church but outward to the community. I was helping at the local lunch club, became part of the 'Welcome Wednesday' group and a dementia/carer café. 'During the Covid lockdowns I had a weekly telephone ministry to over 60 people and shopped for some. At the beginning of 2022, I was celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of my aunt and uncle; my aunt has Alzheimer’s. While at that celebration, my elderly aunt and uncle were huddled together on the dance floor. When I looked at them God gave me a beautiful vision and, in that moment, it became very clear to me that God was giving me a ministry to our vulnerable elderly people and those who care for them. 'This new role as an Anna Chaplain fills me with great joy and I find it a real privilege to serve God and his people in this distinctive ministry of Anna Chaplaincy.'

Elizabeth said after the service: 'We're delighted that Steph has been commissioned as an Anna Chaplain in the RNWK Group, working primarily in Longfield. This formalises and will enable her to further develop her current role of offering spiritual support and pastoral care to older people at home, in care homes and in the community and also encourage others to join her in this ministry.'

Steph Perfitt with husband Roger, daughter Laura and Julia Burton-Jones

As the congregation enjoyed refreshments in the church hall, several people made a point of telling Julia how much Steph's kindness and pastoral heart were valued in the community. This was apparent through the spontaneous and heartfelt applause from the congregation as Steph, Helen, Elizabeth and Bishop Simon processed out of church at the end of the service.

Steph has been raising awareness of the spiritual needs of older people, including speaking at a meeting of the local Women’s Institute. Others are keen to support her in plans to extend the church's work with older people, through prayer and volunteering.

Steph had chosen the hymns for the service, including 'Teach me to dance' by Graham Kendrick. The words reflected the spirit of the occasion beautifully. Listen to the song here.




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