My experience as an Anna Chaplain is 'more rewarding than ever'
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
'I am into my fourth year as an Anna Chaplain', writes Essex Anna Chaplain Eileen Simmons, 'and finding it more rewarding than ever.
'Yesterday, for example, I had a lovely session as a personal befriender, visiting a wonderful 92-year-old who lives in a ground floor flat of a retirement complex. She makes me so welcome with homemade shortbread, and her friends are pleased when I make my monthly calls as they share the rest of the shortbread in the afternoon! I have grown so fond of my friend B, and yesterday I was touched when she asked me if I would take her funeral service (I am also a local preacher).
'So for those reading this who may not know about Anna Chaplains, who are we and what do we do?
'BRF's Anna Chaplaincy is an ecumenical, community-based chaplaincy network promoting the spiritual welfare of older people for people of strong, little or no faith at all. Anna Chaplains support older people and their carers, wherever they may be – in residential care, in their own homes and in the community.
'Like many Anna Chaplains, I was already involved in the field before I became an Anna Chaplain. I spent one morning a week in a local care home with individual residents, most of whom had advanced dementia. My one-to-one interactions were very much appreciated by the individuals in most cases. The manager of the home welcomed my weekly visits, as did the staff and families – I wore a large badge with simply my name EILEEN on it in red felt tip. All names have been changed and I always send the manager my articles before publication. He was delighted and sent copies to his own employers. One lady called Kitty always chose to be alone and in the early days was more likely to swear at me when I said “Hello” but later on she used to say “Eileen, my sister is called Eileen. I’d better go and find her.”
'As in their earlier lives, every resident is an individual, unique and precious. Every week I would sit and chat with Peter. He never recognised me. But when I reminded him that he used to service Lancaster Bombers in World War II he would be so pleased to tell me his story again. Every week he became more lucid and happy to talk about not waiting to be called up, but volunteering. We would talk about how proud his father was when he signed up. The staff were wonderful but did not have the time that I had to listen to his stories. I never tired of similar discussions as he himself loved our conversations.
'Unfortunately for me, during Covid the home was sold to a different care home group. I hoped to return but the new management only wanted individuals, who could act as voluntary carers, being fully trained in lifting, using a hoist, feeding etc. and had no concept of one-to-one interactions. I do so much miss my work there, but I had to accept that it had come to an end.
'One door closed, but another opened. I am now well into my second year of volunteering with the HOPE group at a local Methodist church. We meet on Mondays between 10.00 am and 2.00 pm. This group comprises individuals with dementia and their spouses, who have become carers. There are also carers whose loved ones have needed to go into residential care, but want to stay with the group as the carers are so supportive of each other. I join the group as a listener and it is such a privilege that individual carers want to talk to me. I also interact with those who have dementia, who chat away so happily, telling me their stories.
'Our HOPE group is fully integrated with other groups meeting at the same time, e.g. card makers, creative crochet and knitting. During the morning, we usually do keep fit and a varied range of other activities are laid on. We lunch together and usually in the afternoon we have a sing along session with old favourites. Our group is close-knit and our leader decided to meet for the TV coverage of our late Queen’s funeral, which was such a wise decision.
'During the Covid lockdown, I learned of the need for volunteers to do telephone befriending for our local Age Concern. I have continued this work and one morning a week I phone up individuals and it has surprised me just how meaningful and valuable it is. The people tell Age Concern that they would like to have someone to chat with. Age Concern explains that the befrienders will make contact and it is one way only; the individual does not phone the befriender. I then agree with the person the day and time when I will call. I have been told that my calls are “the highlight of my week” and “I really look forward to talking to you”. Some of the people I phone have had to shield because of their medical conditions and it has been isolating and very difficult for them. I see the need personally to continue telephone befriending for the very elderly, who may be housebound. I report back monthly to Age Concern on my calls and more frequently if I feel the coordinator needs to know about an issue.
'I am into my third year of this commitment and really love it. Two individuals have been with me all the way through, others have died or moved away, and I have been invited to take on new people. It is so different when we are a few months into the befriending and trust has built up.
'Other Anna Chaplains cover a vast range of activity, but all serve elderly individuals. In our regular training sessions, I learn so much from colleagues and the central team at BRF.'
Eileen Simmons September 2022