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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

TWO 'Red Letter Days'- such fun at the Gathering!

Former Anna Chaplaincy coordinator Alex Burn with one of the founder network members Erica Roberts, City Chaplain for Older People in Southampton

We have had a brilliant time at the Anna Chaplaincy Gathering this year! It was our first time face to face together- in-person - since we were last at High Leigh, Hertfordshire, back in 2019!

This network Gathering gave us all the chance to say a proper farewell to Alex Burn, our coordinator since 2015 who retired in March, rather than resorting to Zoom as we have had to do at our annual get-togethers since the start of the pandemic.

It was also an opportunity for me to say 'au revoir', since announcing my own retirement this autumn (writes Debbie Thrower). To be together over two days was a special treat and the kind messages - all in a specially bound book - from so many people, plus other gifts and flowers, meant November 8 and 9 truly were 'Red Letter Days' for me! I am just so glad that I shall still be linked into Anna Chaplaincy - and to all the friends I've made over the years - by becoming a BRF Ministries vice-president from January 2024.

Catriona Foster, one of the longest-standing network members

The Gathering involved guest speakers on topics as varied as Christian meditation, End-of-life Care, and inter-generational storytelling. Our thanks to Clive McKie from TakeTime , network member Catriona Foster from St John's Harborne, Birmingham, and Gemma Gillard from Truth Be Told for giving us so much food for thought - and a lot of laughter and fun - as, for example, we re-enacted the Parable of the Lost Sheep!

Gemma Gillard of Truth Be Told demonstrating the effectiveness of storytelling among old and young

This week was also time for expressing gratitude to our Anna Chaplaincy Lead in Wales, Sally Rees, who has been with us since the very start. There are now 12 Anna Chaplains in Wales - Anglicans, Baptists and one is from the Assemblies of God. Sally may be retiring this year as well, but she will continue to offer training and encouragement to many. Fulsome tributes were paid to Sally's stamina, drive and determination, her professionalism and dedication to the Anna Chaplaincy cause. We have Sally to thank for the original idea to publish the Carer's Guides and the Easy Guides, for instance.

Sally Rees (fourth from left) surrounded by colleagues and friends - Hilary Prichard, Alex Burn, Debbie Thrower, Mavis Martin and Marian Muskett

On Wednesday evening we could get stuck into - sometimes literally, there was so much glue about- with a colourful 'Create Session' led by the Church of England's Pioneer minister for the Arts, Gill Sakakini. The Chapel Barn was the prefect setting for us, surrounded by memory tins we were busy decorating and filling, plus - not pumpkins - but papier mache misshapen vessels!

It was tremendous to be back in one another's company after the trials of lockdowns and social distancing. Alex received many rounds of applause as she and I undertook a 'Hinge and Bracket' style rundown of the history and highlights of Anna Chaplaincy since BRF took on the concept in 2014. We all gave heartfelt thanks for what God has done to turn us into a national movement and through the efforts of the now 330-strong Anna Chaplaincy network.

Back in 2015 - Richard Fisher, BRF Chief Executive, at the top of the stairs (far left) at the first Gathering at Waverley Abbey near Farnham with network members and supporters in the chaplaincy's early stages
Richard Fisher, Chief Executive of BRF Ministries - home of Anna Chaplaincy

It was a precious time to look back as well as forwards to all that will develop from here on... in the capable and confident hands of Debbie Ducille, Julia-Burton-Jones, Marian Muskett and the man who has been with us for every Gathering since the first at Waverley Abbey, Surrey, in 2015, Chief Executive Richard Fisher.

'I don't often have moments of genius,' he said, in the closing minutes of the Gathering. 'But I had one when we decided to invite Debbie to be a vice-president of BRF, which means she will remain an advocate for us, and a part of all this we hope for many years to come.'

And I say Amen to that! We'll have more news and photos from the Gathering in the coming days.




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