Musings from a locked-down Anna Chaplain
Updated: Jun 11
Wendy Gleadle is an Anna Chaplain in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. She's sent us her 'Musings from a locked-down Anna Chaplain':
In March I was informed that I am in the government’s ‘vulnerable’ age group and I must self-isolate for at least twelve weeks. At the same time, government guidelines meant the care home where I minister could no longer have visitors. Since then, I have been living in solitary isolation, seeing no friends or family, having groceries delivered and only allowed one walk for exercise each day.
This new experience presents me with three main challenges. The first is how to adapt to the changes that have suddenly happened in my life. Perhaps God is asking me to leave the safety of what I knew and venture with him into the unknown, although it is known to God. It has been suggested the difficulties of change are not just because we have to encounter something new, but rather because we must let our old ways go. Perhaps profound change can happen in isolation because it is a place where we can encounter God. It seems that in surrendering to God, this new solitary life must be filled with prayer coupled with hope. Instead of striving to be the person that I was, perhaps I must simply permit myself to be who I am in this new place, where I can be at one with God.
My second challenge is to replace my conventional church worship with something uniquely my own. But what does worship really entail? It could be argued that the use of the word 'worship' is often accepted as corporate singing of praises to God. But in Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks of a wider interpretation of worship, including not conforming to the norms of society, loving others and being spiritually hopeful, patient and prayerful – and these are all activities I can practice in isolation.
My third challenge is discovering what can replace my previous life of community. Perhaps this is my opportunity to step away from my obligation to be at church each Sunday and discover that it can be my connection with others that is ‘church’. Christian community is often portrayed as an inwardly focused group, committed, encouraging and building each other up. But it could be argued we need ‘communitas’ rather than ‘community’. This means social togetherness outside the usual structures of society, focusing on the task at hand and adapting to new experiences through transition. This sounds very much like my new life in isolation, so perhaps I am already practicing ‘communitas’ instead of ‘community’ without realising it. And if so, how will this impact my pioneering as a quarantined Anna Chaplain?
When I became an Anna Chaplain, I was aware that by focusing on the frail elderly, those living with dementia and their carers, I would become involved in the challenges they face by listening, supporting and loving them. From the early days of my isolation, I began to realise that I could still involve myself in these issues, but I would be reliant on the telephone and internet to connect with people. In thinking of the similarities between my initial Anna role and my new isolated one, it strikes me that two particular skills are central to both – conversation and prayer. As Ann Morrissey puts it in the Anna Chaplaincy Handbook, part of an Anna Chaplain’s role through conversation is 'to enable people to widen their vocabulary in relation to the second half of life, resisting the temptation to disregard new ways and attitudes because of having "become old"'. This can be achieved almost as well over the telephone as in a social setting.
Seeing as God sees
I have been deeply convicted that despite the restrictions and loneliness of this isolation, I actually have more opportunities for prayer. In particular I have started to pray for each care home resident by name every Friday when I would have been visiting them. And as David Scott is quoted in the Handbook as saying, 'In perceiving what a person says or does not say, spoken or unspoken prayer can help us see their world as God sees it, and see ourselves as God sees us.'
In responding to ‘seeing myself as God sees me’, I am praying that despite being physically separated from my elderly friends, I can still be the right person at the right time, that contacts can still take place and Jesus will be revealed. I am comforted by the thought that I can continue my Anna role with many elderly acquaintances over the telephone or social media.
At first, I was sadly aware that I could not be personally in conversation with the care home residents until I actually meet them face to face once this pandemic is over. However, I was able to make cards and small gifts for them to be left in a special post box at their front door. So far these have included small bags of fudge – kindly donated by a church member, each with a scriptural message on them – bookmarks and small holding crosses.
Every Sunday my Baptist church presents a service of worship on a YouTube link, and I have recently started to post this link to some of my isolated elderly friends, as well as to the care home, where they have shown it to the residents in the lounge, enabling them to experience worship again. And this week I plan to take advantage of a recent innovation at the care home, and use their Skype link to have a personal conversation with one or two residents. So even in these strange, isolated times, I am able to be in touch with my care home friends after all!
My final thought is that If Jesus is the Lord of every area of human life, then he will expect me to involve him in people’s issues through the modern media just as much as I had in face-to-face meetings. While many find it difficult to identify Christians as a church when they are not meeting in a building, perhaps the connections made possible by social media are presenting Anna Chaplains with an exciting new way of 'being church'.