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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Remarkable stories of quiet Christian service over many years...

Claudius Olorire, Liilian Davidson, Rev Jim Bennett and Jennie Jones at Slade Green

On July 4, 2021, two commissioning services were held in Bexley Borough, with four Anna Friends and an Anna Chaplain being commissioned.

Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester Diocese Julia Burton-Jones spoke in the morning at a service at St Augustine’s Slade Green where Claudius Olorire, Jennie Jones and Lilian Davidson were commissioned as Anna Friends. Their vicar and team leader Jim Bennett was ordained later in life and had been CEO of Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice, where he established an ecumenical chaplaincy service.

Before the pandemic Jim set up a dementia friendly community café at St Augustine’s called St A’s which meets weekly and where Jennie, Claudius and Lilian volunteer. Jim also volunteers at the Memory Café in Dartford run by local charity Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support Services; he has become the group’s unofficial chaplain, and was asked recently to conduct two funerals for members who died.

Jim reflected on attending the very first Anna Chaplaincy event with Debbie Thrower and Alex Burn in Rochester Diocese in 2016; he is delighted his own team have now been commissioned.

As well as being an Anna Friend, Jennie is also a Brownie leader and before Covid took the Brownies to Heathfield Court Care Home in the parish to sing with the residents. Jennie is in the church choir and was the soloist at the service on 4 July. Claudius’ paid work is supporting people with learning disabilities and his skills have been helpful in welcoming people with dementia to St A’s. He is also church warden at St Augustine’s. Lilian is the ‘welcomer’ of the team, standing on the street outside church to encourage mums on their way to drop children at the local primary school to call in at the café on the way home! St A’s is a truly intergenerational café where guests of every age are welcome and people with dementia have a sense of belonging in their local community. Jim hopes that St A’s will restart very soon and is looking forward to being back in Heathfield Court soon.

Christel Davenport, Bishop Simon and Patricia Croft outside Christ Church Bexleyheath after the service

Expanding to become the biggest Anna Chaplaincy parish team in Rochester Diocese

In the evening Julia represented the Anna Chaplaincy team at a confirmation service at Christ Church Bexleyheath where Patricia Croft was commissioned Anna Chaplain, and Christel Davenport Anna Friend. Patricia joins Jo Ellard and Richard Percival who were commissioned Anna Chaplains at Christ Church in 2019. The Anna Friend team already has Jane Linington and Stephanie Ross, also commissioned in 2019. Julia remarked in her introduction to the commissioning, that, with six members, Christ Church has the largest Anna Chaplaincy team of any parish in Rochester Diocese.

The commissioning was part of a confirmation service with Bishop Simon, Bishop of Tonbridge, who is Julia’s husband. Christ Church has a vibrant ministry with older people, with group activities, chaplaincy in three local care homes and one-to-one spiritual care for older people in their own homes. Regular lunches are hosted at the church for those in the parish who have been recently widowed, and the hospitality offered will be enhanced by the new kitchen and café area which Bishop Simon blessed after the service.

Christel has continued to support older people in the parish through regular phone contact during the pandemic. She has a heart for family carers and how Christ Church might increase the support it offers them. Patricia leads the group at Christ Church for older women, which reaches beyond the congregation to others in the community. As well as organising the group’s meetings, Patricia provides much pastoral care for members behind the scenes, keeping in touch with those no longer able to attend due to health problems; she has kept in regular contact with them during Covid-19. Trevor Wyatt, the vicar of Christ Church, explained why he wanted her to be commissioned Anna Chaplain:

Patricia runs our church Ladies Group, which she has done for a number of years, and the group has grown to some 35 members. The group has a lively programme which always has a Christian aspect at each meeting, including prayer. The group members are nearly all over 70 years old and some have varying needs, including aspects of dementia. Patricia does the most amazing job in this leadership role and is deeply involved with the day-to-day practical needs of each and every lady in her group and provides pastoral care and support to them all. I really don’t know how she does it.

This is what Patricia told us about her ministry at Christ Church:

I have been a member of Christ Church, Bexleyheath, since I was 21 years old (I am now 76) and was confirmed there when I was 24. Prior to being married at Christ Church in August 1970, I rather prematurely joined the Young Wives Group. With the passing years, it was felt that we could no longer call ourselves "young" wives and so the name of our group has changed several times. We are now known simply as Christ Church Ladies Group. I cannot believe I have been a member of the group for 52 years!

During that time, I have been an active member serving on the committee several times, then becoming the secretary, and in 2005 the leader. It is in my role as Leader of Christ Church Ladies Group that I was commissioned an Anna Chaplain by Bishop Simon Burton-Jones at Christ Church on 4th July. I found the service very moving. Our constitution states the object of Christ Church Ladies Group is "To offer friendship in the family of the church." We meet once a month at church and the group is open to all. Over the past few years our membership has increased; we have reached out to the wider community, which is a great joy.

Our meetings start with prayers, followed by our speaker and conclude with refreshments and a chat. We have had some very interesting speakers in the past from a Pearly King to a presentation on "India on an Elephant" to "My Life as Chauffeur to the Mayor of Bexley" to Rev Trevor Wyatt on keyboard at Christmas playing carols for us, so a wide range of subjects.

For some ladies Christ Church Ladies Group is a lifeline, especially if they are widowed or live alone. It is something to look forward to; it is an opportunity to get out of the house and meet people; more importantly, it is a chance to have a chat and make new friends in a safe environment. I usually arrange a coach trip once a year, perhaps to the coast or to a stately home; the outings have always proved popular. During lockdown, volunteers from Christ Church were on hand to offer help with shopping, collecting prescriptions etc. if needed. From my conversations, I know everyone is looking forward to the day when we can safely resume our meetings, and how wonderful that first meeting will be.

Patricia’s story is one of quiet, faithful Christian service over many years, and we are delighted her vicar Trevor recognised how much spiritual care she gives to the older women in the church and local community and wanted this recognised through the title Anna Chaplain. Welcome to the Anna Chaplaincy family, Jennie, Lilian, Claudius, Christel and Patricia!




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