Sent home on a high – The 2021 Anna Chaplaincy Gathering
Updated: 3 days ago
'There are a lot of sheep in Cumbria!' said the Anna Chaplaincy Lead for the region, Katherine Froggatt. That may be why she and her team, who provided all the excellent worship sessions at our Anna Chaplaincy Gathering this year, asked us to make a 'cartoon-style' sheep during one session.
It's also a good biblical image for God's people, of course, and we were each made to feel a precious 'child of God' through the hymns, poems, prayers and reflections provided by Cumbria Anna Chaplains. Throughout lockdowns and beyond, they have sought to 'take the outdoors in' by recording church services full of spectacular countryside views to send to people shielding from the virus.
The theme of this year's gathering – online for the second year running for obvious reasons – was 'Refresh and Reflect'. There was a noticeable change of tone from last year's gathering when the mood was sombre and subdued, as opposed to one of energy and reinvention this autumn.
We revelled in the highlights of what a busy year it has been despite Covid-19. Growth in Anna Chaplaincy has been significant, with the network now standing at 182. Since the beginning of August, 17 new Anna Chaplains have been commissioned!
A high proportion of the more than 70 men and women who booked their places for the one and a half day gathering were brand new Anna Chaplains – like those from the Isle of Wight, Thame and Witney in Oxfordshire, Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and Northamptonshire.
Guest speakers included the author of Still Love Left: Faith and Hope in Later Life (YouCaxton 2021), Michael Jackson, who talked about how, in cultivating our own interior lives, we are then better positioned to minister to others from a place of abundance. One participant said she could listen to Michael 'for days.'
We also heard from Rosie Deedes, a former prison and hospice chaplain, focusing on the importance of self-care when giving so much of oneself in the Anna Chaplain's role. She led us through a simple exercise using the hand to release tension, fear, grief and anxiety in order to calm the whole body and receive God's peace.
Freya Briley is a newly qualified health practitioner who joined the gathering live from a mental health ward at a Kent hospital – dressed in her scrubs and mask – to talk about drama therapy in relation to work with older people. She emphasised the importance of connection in all our ministry with people in later life and gave practical examples of games to get the most cognitively challenged engaging one-to-one. She has run workshops with drama-based activities to help relieve anxiety among many older people post-pandemic. Freya described how play is of immense importance to help people – especially those living with dementia – to connect and, where appropriate, work through past issues that may be impairing their mental and spiritual health.
Richard Fisher, the Chief Executive of BRF, was with us throughout both days and said it had been a tremendous gathering and that with each year 'they just get better and better!'
Feedback from attendees included:
'It has been my first gathering and I have learnt so much. Thank you.'
'Just a thank you so much for the last day and a half. I had to really protect the time as things looked like overtaking it! I am glad I did.'
'Our sincere thanks to you for all the hard work that has been brought together to achieve such an amazing time. Everything we heard and saw was so encouraging. We are full of such wonderful thoughts and ideas.'
'A fabulous two days.'
'A wonderfully energising gathering.'
All attendees had brought along one object which symbolised their ministry. They talked about the significance of such items which ranged from bunches of keys, to holding crosses, colouring pens to prayer books.
Mine (writes Debbie Thrower) was Daily Prayer for all Seasons: A contemporary Benedictine prayer companion (Canterbury Press, 2016) introduced by Bishop John Pritchard. It stood for the fact that prayer is at the heart of our work, this particular book being a rich resource. I quoted Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's, A reflection on finding your way: what to do in the darkness on p.18:
Consent to it
But don’t wallow in it
Know it as a place of germination
Remember the light
Take an outstretched hand if you find one
Exercise unused senses
Find the path by walking in it
Watch for dawn
(referred to in the footnotes, as found in Holly W Whitcorn, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005) p.38.)
So much of the gathering had been about darkness and light, hope and transformation, and of finding God in the present moment – in silence and stillness.
After giving thanks for all that has been achieved in the past year and praying for the ongoing ministry of all the Anna Chaplaincy network, far and wide, we were all sent home on a high. A final blessing concluded:
And so we go now
With laughter in our eyes
A smile on our lips.
A song in our heart.
And merriment in our soul
To share the joy that Christ
Has given us. Amen