News from the front - in south London
Updated: Jun 10
Sophie Sutherland is the Anna Chaplain for Bromley, south London. She tells the encouraging story of how her work has changed since the imposition of lockdown but has brought unexpected dividends.
It has been a challenging but in many ways immensely fruitful time for ministry to older people at St Peter and St Paul, Bromley. Much of the work that I, Alan (our Anna Friend) and other members of the church would normally be doing with older people came to an abrupt halt in March – visiting people at home, taking Communion, Lychgate Lunches, Thursday Fellowship and of course being alongside older members of the congregation when we gather in church for services.
Our ministry has taken a new shape – but in many ways we have been as busy as ever, if not more so, and I think this time will, in some respects, change the way we work for good.
Early on, members of our Pastoral and Ministry teams tried to think of as many different ways as possible to stay connected and particularly to provide support to more vulnerable people. We drew up lists of people who might need extra practical and pastoral support and lists of those who might provide it – interestingly, there was quite an overlap. Many of those who were staying at home because of their age or physical vulnerability have been able to support others of all ages on the phone.
We've also made a special effort to stay in touch with older people who are not necessarily congregation members but have come to lunches or other events and are missing these. A couple in the congregation who are also GPs have been very helpful providing practical advice, information and support as well as kindly mailing out huge numbers of cards at Easter and Pentecost.
Reaching more people
We have tried to find ways of ensuring that the life and worship of the church continues to be accessible to as many people as possible. We've been delighted to see how many older people have been able to join in our Sunday and midweek services via Facebook and YouTube. Indeed, some people for whom getting to church was already a challenge have probably felt more involved and connected than they would have done otherwise. 'Godspace', an occasional reflective service mainly attended by a smallish group of older people, reached many times the number of people who would normally attend in church, including some who just chanced upon it.
Virtual services have allowed some who would not have been able to get to church to contribute readings via e-mail or WhatsApp - not to mention some wonderful sermons from Anne Townsend! [See this previous blog post]
At Anne's suggestion, a group of us have gathered some 'reflections for a dispersed community', and in preparing one of these entitled 'Together Apart' I found myself reflecting that in lockdown we were actually coming to join many of our housebound and elderly friends within their everyday reality.
For those who can't access the internet, our vicar James has sent out prayer books to use to join in Daily Prayer at home, and our administrator has also been sending out a newsletter, including some materials from services or the website which those people might have missed.
One particular challenge has been working out how to continue with our version of Messy Vintage 'Creative Funtime'. Usually we are all sitting round tables chatting, making things enjoying a short reflection and delicious cake! How do you do that virtually? We decided to have a go at doing 'Creative Fun @ Home', with a video going on Facebook a week ahead and print out instructions posted to those unable to watch online.
Clearly we weren't able to furnish everyone with materials, but one of our young people, who did some Anna Chaplaincy 'shadowing' last summer, came up with the idea of making things with whatever is at hand. So our theme was 'Making not wasting', and we made rainbows, party hats and greetings cards.
On the day, we had a lovely Zoom chat and talked about what we'd made over a cuppa. Most people managed to join with video, but one person phoned in. Others texted the pictures of their creations. Of course we did miss the cake – though one person had made some and shared the recipe. It will now become a 'rolling' event – next up will be making little pom-pom 'people' made from old wool, inspired by one of our Fellowship members whose great-grandchildren made her a cut-out person to keep her company in lockdown!
Time to really listen and chat
I think there have been some benefits from making individual phone calls to people I might see in a larger group at church or in a care home – time to really listen and chat. I have been specially touched by the efforts of care home staff to make phone or video calls possible for residents who don't have a mobile, and I have actually found that some people respond very well on the phone.
I called one lady on VE Day, remembering that she was a young bride whose husband of just a few weeks never returned. She can see very little and often has her eyes closed when I visit but on the phone she was as clear as a bell as she recalled that day and thanked me for remembering.
Prayers and appreciation
The very difficult and traumatic experiences of many care home staff and residents have been much on my mind, and together with other Anna Chaplains in the borough we have contacted all of the 60 or so homes listed by the borough, as well as some of the assisted living complexes, to find out about what spiritual support they currently receive and, where appropriate, to assure them of our prayers and appreciation. I am very excited to hear about the resources that are being developed for working with care homes.
Family carers have also sought more support during this time, especially family members of people with dementia, who struggle with explaining the lockdown over and over again. Just before the lockdown, I had attended one of the MIND courses on challenging behaviour associated with dementia, and this has been invaluable in supporting those whose loved ones feel cross and frustrated not to be able to follow their usual routines.
Defining who we are as church
Most of all, the very different experience of doing church and pastoral care have been a powerful reminder that whatever our age or situation, it is our love and care in Christ for one another and our community that defines who we are as church – when so much else is stripped away, this remains.