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'Inspiring' Faith in Older People /Anna Chaplaincy webinar

Updated: Mar 25

Attendees from all over Scotland, and beyond, joined the Anna Chaplaincy team at BRF Ministries and Edinburgh-based charity Faith in Older People yesterday (March 20) for the fourth in a series of such webinars in recent years. The topic - 'Practical approaches to spiritual care among older people - The Potential of Anna Chaplaincy'.

Chaired by FiOP director, Maureen O'Neill, with an impressive array of key speakers, many Anna Chaplains from across the country also took part, including Angela Wilson (Church of Scotland) from Lanarkshire, and Judith Wilkinson (Scottish Episcopal Church) in East Lothian.

Anna Chaplaincy is 'offering something unique'

First to address the gathering of around 40 participants was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Sally Foster-Fulton (who also heads the Christian Aid team in Scotland). Speaking on 'The Benefits of Anna Chaplaincy within Church Congregations' she said:

'I find this an extraordinary gift that you are offering the churches. It is a timely space for Anna Chaplaincy to come in.'

At a period of great change for the Church of Scotland- 43 presbyteries coming down to just 12 - she spoke of moves to combine congregations, and of 'church-based empowerment of the local.' There is now a 'real energy around Ecumenism' she said. Having recently visited Anna Chaplaincy-led activities in two churches and clearly been impressed, she said, 'It felt like coming home.'

The Moderator highlighted the shift towards much more 'grassroots resourcing' and emphasised 'collaboration is key to the future':

'We are creating something entirely new. It is very exciting and I hope that we can do that ecumenically and continue those conversations together. There is a danger that we can lose people in this process. We don't want older people being 'lost in transit'.
Anna Chaplaincy can help protect us against this as it is so easy to lose touch with people and let them down. Anna Chaplaincy offers a church-based approach. It offers something unique to the team. They become empowered activists. I promise I will be a huge advocate, especially of your Anna Chaplaincy training. It's a no-brainer to be honest, it's a timely thing.'

'Hospices in the heart of our communities'

Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care, the voice of the independent social care sector in Scotland, the largest group of social care providers across Scotland, spoke next. He focused on the 'huge amount of stigma around care homes, especially post-pandemic', and stressed how different care homes actually are from the stereotype.

He described how people are leaving it later to move into care (into their early 90s now, with average stays of 14-18 months compared with 3-5 years in the past); one is 'more likely to celebrate someone's 100th birthday each week in care homes now, as opposed to one a year, as used to be the case'.

Nowadays, care homes are more like 'hospices in the heart of our community,' he said.

'Care homes are places of life and positivity rather than negativity and decline. Places where people can come to terms with things, often for the first time, and we can explore who we want to be? Places that enhance life, the derivation of the word enhance being 'to raise up higher', with all the potential of change, the adventure of difference, that entails. Places where we open ourselves to the possibility of enhancement and address the questions surrounding how do you enhance and raise your personhood? Spaces where people can become the people they dream to be, and we are addressing our care and support to the totality of the person.'

Debbie Thrower, the original pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy listened to this vision with great interest. 'The picture Dr Macaskill paints is really inspiring, and undoubtedly there are striking examples of enlightened spiritual care, yet it will require much more focus in future on good quality spiritual care across the whole landscape of residential care for older adults if every care home is truly to become a 'hospice in the heart of the community'.

The Purple Bicycle Project

Professor John Swinton, Chair in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen, unpacked the Purple Bicycle Project approach to capturing stories to aid in the spiritual care of people living even with the most advanced cases of dementia.

'Stories are the way we make sense of our lives.' he said. 'When dementia becomes part of your life, though, people stop listening to you. 'You've lost your keys, oh that must be part of your dementia', they say.

'The Purple Bicycle Project helps communities hold on to stories for people. There are ways of unearthing stories that are invisible under normal conditions. We're on a journey together, hence the purple tandem bicycle image, conveying a sense of movement, things to look forward to and develop. What can we do now to lift people's spirits? Creating communities of people that pay attention - family, friends, practitioners, care staff - who together create a map, a plan, so we begin to see the individual differently and create safe, spiritually-fulfilling places'.

There was time during the webinar for Ministry Lead Debbie Ducille to encapsulate the key features of Anna Chaplaincy's approach to community-based spiritual care, and support for carers, and the movement's focus on all that older generations contribute to society; how the wisdom and capabilities of people in later life should never be under-estimated.

Towards the end of the webinar, Training and Development Lead for Anna Chaplaincy, Julia Burton-Jones, described the Anna Chaplaincy training opportunities. There are now 358 Anna Chaplains across the country and fresh cohorts are trained throughout the year.

Julia also reminded people of the Spiritual Care Course series, with videos presented by John Swinton, that's available for churches to run. It boosts the work of pastoral teams and helps people engage fully with the issues of living well in the second half of life. There is also an online version of the course, led by trainer Anne Milton-Worssell, former Anna Chaplain in Surrey, who was also part of the webinar.

Reflecting on what had been 'a thought-provoking, re-invigorating event', Debbie Thrower concluded:

'What first class speakers; they fulfilled their briefs so well and spoke genuinely from the heart. All the input and chairmanship was excellent and really fleshed out the whole topic. Time in breakout rooms talking with others was invaluable. It was lovely to hear from several very different Anna Chaplains - Angela Wilson and nonagenarian Jimmy were a star turn together!'
Jimmy and Angela describe 'Remember When?' reminiscence get togethers in a local bowling club in Lanarkshire where she is an Anna Chaplain
'What a period of change this is in the ecumenical landscape and what an opportunity there is for both FiOP and Anna Chaplaincy to contribute at this juncture. Let’s hope there will be many present who go away inspired to be 'salt and light' in terms of bringing what they have learnt to an even wider audience, especially to those in a key position to implement new ideas and ways of working collaboratively'.



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