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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

St Martin's Epsom take a closer look at Anna Chaplaincy

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Was it a coincidence or 'God-incidence' that I was invited to a church which bears the name St Martin, the very saint from whom the term ‘chaplain’ is derived? And that's not where the coincidences ended…

First, let me explain that the good people of St Martin of Tours Church Epsom wanted to hear more about Anna Chaplaincy at their Sunday evening service on 8 December 8.

I reminded the congregation that Martin had been a fourth-century Roman soldier and a new convert to Christianity: 'We’re told that he was stationed in northern France and that one day he encountered a destitute man near the gates of the city of Amiens. He took his Roman cloak (his capella) and with his military sword, he cut it in half and wrapped the shivering man in half his cloak.

'This has become a compelling image which is pictured all over Europe and beyond. Martin left the army and was ordained with a special dispensation to minister away from the gathered church community, in places of real and acute need. He became known as the keeper of the bisected cloak (capellanus) and as he and his gathered followers extended their work, they built small places of care and worship – chapels. So, significantly, the chapel follows the chaplain, not, as we generally assume, the other way round. Here, then, is the initial feature of chaplaincy, that it first addresses acute need with practical care.

'Secondly, it goes to where people are without waiting for them to come where we are. These two combine to describe an outreach which has been part of the church’s self-understanding from the beginning.

'Then there is a third feature of a chaplain’s ministry. We may sometimes wonder why Martin did not give his whole cloak, but the half cloak serves as a vivid reminder that chaplains addressing critical need are themselves riskily exposed and vulnerable to a considerable degree. Finally, this story says something to us about status, for at the moment of the inception of this ministry, Martin was still a lay person. He was later ordained, but at the moment when it all started, he was not.

'Chaplaincy has had the potential from the beginning to be a ministry of the whole people of God. The gospels describe the ministry of Jesus, very largely outside of and, to some extent, away from the places of gathered worship – synagogue and temple. Jesus conducts his ministry in homes or in the open air, in the places where people live and work, and this was very largely outside the confines of the gathered faith community. This is a serious challenge to the church which instinctively looks inwards and is concerned with its own preservation. Our calling as disciples is to live out the meaning and the message of the gospel in word and deed. It is to make real in our own time and place the ministry of Jesus.

'It is about ministering where people are rather than where we would like them to be; it is about meeting their need with an offer of love, concern and care. This means offering them what they need, not what we want.'

I also gave some compelling statistics about the need for more support for older people, the context for the Anna Chaplaincy ministry.

  • The number of people in England and Wales over 90 years of age increased by 50% over a recent 15-year period (the 15 years to 2017), incidentally… with virtually no change in the working age population. (Office for National Statistics)

  • The proportion of the population who are retired will rise to about 24% in 2050, that’s from the 12% recorded in 2012, and by 2050 there will be around eight million adults aged over 80 years old, three times more than there are currently. (RSA Action and Research Centre)

We wish St Martin's leadership team and parishioners well, as they explore further how they can best support people in their later years in their church and community…

What's more, on a personal note, it was a real joy to meet 'Maureen' in church. She described St Martin's as 'my church' – and, further, disclosed that she is my second cousin. She came with copies of family memorabilia for me and explained how my paternal grandmother and her grandfather were brother and sister. Our shared 'Auntie Muriel' from Kent is the child in the bottom right-hand corner of this photograph taken in 1907. A small world, indeed!

Forebears from the family album circa 1907



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