Recognising the vital contribution of Anna Friends
Updated: Apr 29
Commissioning of Pauline Jackson as an Anna Friend – St Mark’s Church, Gillingham, Kent, 21 April 2021. Julia Burton-Jones was there and reports on a very happy and worthwhile occasion:
During the first Sunday service inside St Mark’s Church in Gillingham since the start of the third Covid lockdown, and on a beautiful spring morning, Anna Friend Pauline Jackson was commissioned by her vicar Revd Saju Muthalaly.
The Bishop of Tonbridge, Simon Burton-Jones, said a prayer of blessing for Pauline’s ministry, and she was enthusiastically applauded by the congregation – at capacity with social distancing in place – while other friends and family watching the service from home added their prayers and support.
Pauline was commissioned the day after she celebrated her 75th birthday. She had worked for many years as administrator at St Mark’s. Stepping down in 2018, she sought guidance on how to serve God in her retirement. She was prompted to attend a workshop about Anna Chaplaincy held in Rochester Diocese in spring that year and started exploring becoming an Anna Friend. She visited many groups and activities that had been established by others in the Medway Anna Chaplaincy team – inclusive worship services, dementia cafés, carers groups and an event held at Rochester Cathedral to mark Dementia Action Week. With a friend from St Mark’s, she established a dementia café for people with dementia and their families; her own life was deeply touched caring for a friend with young onset dementia who died several years ago.
During the service, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester Diocese, Julia Burton-Jones (married to the bishop!) was interviewed by Saju in a ‘park bench conversation’ where he asked her to explain what Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends do and who to speak to if you sense a calling to ministry with older people.
Saju reflected on growing up in Southern India and his Christian grandmother who died aged 89 and, looking back, had lived with undiagnosed dementia during her later years. He pinpointed the respect and affection with which elders are viewed in his home country and remembered fondly his grandmother’s ability to recite the orthodox liturgy that had been so deeply rooted in her life even into the later stages of her dementia.
St Mark’s began a series of Sundays looking at the Church of England’s Five Marks of Mission. Bishop Simon preached on this topic and Julia was invited by Saju to draw links with Anna Chaplaincy. She said that Anna Chaplaincy was linked to the second mark of mission – ‘to teach, baptise and nurture new believers’ – allowing older people to find and grow in faith, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, and particularly those who struggle to attend service on a Sunday. It also linked to the third mark of mission – ‘to respond to human need by loving service’ – and this is exemplified by Pauline’s role in establishing a dementia café at St Mark’s. There were also links with the fourth mark of mission – ‘to seek to transform unjust structures of society’ – as Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends are a voice for older people and challenge ageist attitudes in the Church and wider society. The first and fifth marks of mission (‘to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom’, and ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation’) are less closely linked but have implications for how we minister alongside older people.
Pauline was clear that she wasn’t called to take on a leadership role as an Anna Chaplain, but to serve older people through sensitive spiritual care. She has continued during the pandemic through phone calls and doorstep visits. When restrictions ease, she looks forward to returning to the care home where she helped with regular services. She was keen to learn as much as she could about spiritual care for older people, and joined the licensed lay ministry training module on Anna Chaplaincy in 2020, which included writing an assignment (an experience she found challenging during lockdown but which resulted in valuable reflection). Pauline also took part in the diocesan Online Anna Chaplaincy Training Course held from February to April in 2021. She reported to the church council on what she learned, and how she plans to respond in her ministry, the day after her commissioning.
New – an Anna Friends Gathering this summer
There are many Anna Friends supporting older people across the UK, quietly listening to the stories of our older generation, and reminding their congregations of the needs. During the pandemic their faithful weekly phone calls have been a lifeline to so many older people. In 2021 Anna Chaplaincy is offering Zoom workshops for Anna Friends and other volunteers involved in Anna Chaplaincy. Following on from two successful workshops on Messy Vintage in January 2021, an Anna Friends Gathering is planned for Tuesday 27 July (10.00 am–1.00 pm). Speakers will include Charlotte Evans and Emily Kenward, Anna Chaplains with Time to Talk Befriending in Sussex. Charlotte and Emily will speak about how Anna Friends can enable older people they support to re-engage with church and community life post lockdown.
Pauline commented after the service that she now feels her role is ‘official’ – her title, badge and certificate give her the confidence that her church family is supporting her as she reaches out to older people in Gillingham to express the love and faithfulness of the God who has been her strength and joy over many years. We pray for continued fruitfulness and encouragement in this invaluable ministry.