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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Saying it with flowers as Anna Chaplaincy commissionings take place in Kent

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

An Anna Chaplain and two Anna Friends for North Downs Benefice in Kent.

North Downs benefice spans several parishes in beautiful countryside close to Maidstone in Kent. A new team was commissioned at Anna Chaplaincy-focused services at two of the parish churches in the benefice – Peter Ashford was commissioned Anna Friend at Holy Cross Bearsted on 29 August, and Jackie Saunders and Janette Bibby as Anna Chaplain and Anna Friend on 26 September at St Mary and All Saints Boxley.

In a parish magazine article introducing Anna Chaplaincy, Janette wrote recently:

'It is quite right that churches aim to support families and young people but it is also right that we remember the older members of our congregations. Anna Chaplains aim to make sure that the older generation has as much of a link with their local church as they would wish to so that ill-health, mobility, cognitive difficulties, or a move to a care home do not mean their communal and personal spiritual life comes to an end.

But spirituality means something wider than going to church. All of us find meaning in different ways, and Anna Chaplains are here to support those of all faiths and none whether by a chat on the phone or a home visit.

Sometimes something practical may make a difference e.g. you may wish to attend a service but not have any transport or want to know what social opportunities there are locally or about devotional books that are suitable. There was a lovely lady with dementia at one of our local churches who simply needed someone to sit beside her and find the hymns for her - then she could join in. Sometimes a listening ear is helpful.

So who are the three people in question? Firstly, there is Peter Ashford from Holy Cross in Bearsted who is already involved in the valuable ministry of providing DVDs to care homes and individuals. Secondly, Jackie Saunders who many will know as a dedicated churchwarden at Boxley and already a provider of pastoral care. Both Peter and Jackie have been through the ALM (authorised lay ministry) training. Thirdly, myself - something of a "floating" worshipper as I tend to accompany my husband (Graham Bibby) wherever he is leading/preaching. I have a working background supporting people with dementia and their carers and was part of the pastoral team at my previous church.'

Jackie Saunders and Janette Bibby are commissioned with many supporters, including the Revd Colin Terry (far right)

Janette’s husband, Captain Graham, is the team leader for Anna Chaplaincy in the benefice. As Church Army Missioner for North Downs, he interviewed Jackie and Janette about their ministry during the service at St Mary’s. In her day job Janette has worked with carers of people with dementia for Carers First and is now running Cogs Clubs for people with early-stage dementia.

Jackie began her Anna Chaplaincy as a member of the Heart of Kent Hospice Anna Chaplaincy team, so it was fitting that the prayers of commissioning at the two services were read by Revd Colin Terry, who retired to the benefice and led the Hospice team until he stepped back in 2020. Anna Chaplaincy lead for Kent, Julia Burton-Jones, spoke at both services about the work of Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends, encouraging members of the congregation to pray for and encourage Peter, Jackie and Janette. Team rector Canon John Corbyn supported the team at both services, and new team vicar Rob Tugwell led the service at which Jackie and Janette were commissioned.

Peter Ashford, Canon John Corbyn (Team Rector) and the Revd Colin Terry

Peter attended an Anna Chaplaincy training day on care home ministry a few months before the pandemic struck. He has been kept busy during the pandemic producing worship services on DVD which are delivered to housebound older people and care homes in Maidstone and surrounding villages. The Anna Chaplaincy team in Maidstone and North Downs worked together to ensure every care home received spiritual care during the pandemic. Though in-person visits are resuming gradually as care homes open up, the DVDs will still be created as they meet a need among older people in the area.

Fittingly, Jackie’s commissioning service took place days before her first visit with Graham to Invicta Court Care Home which opened recently in the benefice. Jackie also hopes to establish a group in Boxley for older people affected by dementia. Janette is soon to be involved in the relaunch of the regular tea party in Otham and visits people at home.

Jackie is a lifelong member of St Mary’s – she began singing in the choir at age seven and is still a member! The congregation wanted to show their gratitude to Jackie for all the care and support she gives, and for looking after the church during the vacancy in her role as churchwarden. They said she is rarely out of the church building, so a pretext was found on the Friday before her commissioning to occupy her during the morning so that the flower arranging team could decorate the church. Jackie was moved to tears when she went to church the next day (taking her turn on the cleaning rota!) to see St Mary’s filled with beautiful displays. The church was full of friends and family to support Jackie and Janette and enjoy the flowers!

St Mary and All Saints, Boxley


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