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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

New Anna Chaplain - launched like a helicopter!

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Congratulations to Pam Shaw and read her moving talk at her commissioning last Sunday, 25 April 2021, as the new Anna Chaplain in Lowestoft, Suffolk


Over the years I have been nudged, called, and firmly landed in many challenging and different situations, sometimes only seeing God’s hand in these sometime later, but few more unexpected than the ascent to this pulpit today, and the reason for it. Last September one Saturday, with no warning I suddenly developed a streaming cold; having told the rector, choir director and my co-church warden I wouldn’t be at the Sunday service, I got up that morning with no cold whatsoever, not even a sniffle – but stayed at home anyway and watched the Church of England morning service – which was about the caring ministry and Anna Chaplaincy. I felt urged to look further into it, hence this morning’s commissioning service.

The ministry was begun only in 2014, and has now spread across the country, with a growing number of people who stand to benefit from its expansion. There are more people aged 60 and over than there are under 18 in Britain, and the number of people over 85 is expected to double in the next 20 years, trebling in the next 30. There is a growing understanding of the significance of this period of life in terms of spiritual development.

My Anna Chaplaincy is part of an existing ministry team who give support nationally. The name Anna is taken from Anna in the Bible who recognised and welcomed baby Jesus when his parents took him to the temple. Anna means ‘grace’ and an Anna Chaplain is a gracious, free offering from the church, seeking nothing specific in return, just being of service. It also witnesses to the fact that a church or community takes seriously the need to reach out and serve people, irrespective of whether they have a religious affiliation or none, rather than being a self-serving closed group. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said – 'The church is the church only when it is there for others.' So – this isn’t Pam going to visit older people – this is rather St. Margaret’s Church embarking on an Anna Chaplaincy ministry as part of their commitment to supporting people in the community.

For the time being I go into Broadlands Residential Home on a weekly basis – having taken Communion in once a month for many years – and it is vital that this ministry is backed by the prayer of the whole church, this being their part in what looks like an exciting challenge. In addition, I am responsible to, report back to, and receive support from my line manager – our Rector, Michael. A prayer chain has been set up so that people can be involved more specifically in the work, obviously maintaining confidentiality, but enabling a wider circle to be holding me and the people being visited in prayer.

The term ‘chaplain’ is increasingly used to describe those who meet with people where they are and on their terms – people who do not necessarily engage with institutional church, and this is so with the Anna Chaplaincy ministry. It is being motivated by love to reach out in love to others on their spiritual journeys, as a companion. In the life of faith and of doing God’s will there is no such thing as retirement – God still has work for everyone to do and the mantra 'Older People Matter' is at the heart and concept of the Anna Chaplaincy ministry – older people have so much to offer and it strives to draw alongside people, to discover their needs, hopes and aspirations and encourages them to do, and be, all that they can.

Anna Chaplaincy is therefore for all older people - those with great faith, those with little faith, or with no faith at all – and may express itself by coming alongside people, helping them to reflect on their life’s journey, both the joys and the challenges, sometimes enabling the healing of memories and the celebration of life experiences in order to foster hope and resilience. Spiritual care is not necessarily religious, as spirituality is present in all individuals and may manifest as an inner peace and strength derived from a perceived relationship with a transcendent God, or an ultimate reality, or whatever an individual values as supreme.

So – how does it work. With coronavirus restrictions in place, I first take a test, waiting in the car park for half an hour until the result appears. Then, donned in the delightful garb of full PPE (apron, mask and gloves), I go through to a room set aside for me for the morning. Residents at their request are brought to me at regular intervals for a chat – the staff being really supportive in this – and I usually see between 7 and 10 people during the morning (only stopping because it is their lunchtime). It is challenging, varying from sharing the joy of a previously sport-loving now nearly blind resident who has visited the chiropodist, meaning she can resume her walks in comfort; reassuring another resident whose vivid unpleasant dreams cause daytime concerns as, for her, they merge into her reality; sharing time with a Catholic who often comes in saying, 'I want to talk about Jehovah'; and recently responding to the request from a resident’s daughter for the home to facilitate my seeing her in her room where she was on end-of-life care. A listening ear, an empathy and willingness to draw alongside people is what is needed.

Over 70 years ago I was a little girl at boarding school in Kent where we had our own chapel, with two five-minute daily services and a longer one on Sundays when people would be invited to come and give us a sermon. I can still vividly remember the visit of an RAF Chaplain, who told us about helicopters being launched from ships. In those days, this was done by a catapult – which is like today’s commissioning service when I am being sent out from St. Margaret’s to do the work of this church in the community. Once launched the helicopters were able to continue on their mission, thanks to the hard work put in by the maintenance crew – in my case by this congregation underpinning all I do with prayer. Occasionally however a gust of wind could catch the helicopter as it set off, causing it to plummet into the sea – but the carrier had grabs which it was able to use to lift the machine back on to deck. – As it says in Deuteronomy - 'God is my refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.' With God’s help, with Michael’s support and with your prayers, hopefully mistakes and set backs will be overcome so this exciting project will be of benefit to older people.

Rector of St Margaret's, Lowestoft, the Revd Michael Asquith and Pam Shaw, newly commissioned Anna Chaplain



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