Spiritual Care Series: Pilot group
Pam Nobbs is an Anna Chaplaincy local coordinator in Hexham, Northumberland, and a reader in the Church of England. She was a member of one of two groups in Newcastle which trialled the Spiritual Care Series course in 2018. She went on to run the course in Hexham, just before lockdown in 2019, and then again online with Morpeth-based Anna Chaplaincy colleague, Margaret Weaver, in 2020. She’s looking forward to a ‘Northern gathering’ on 25 June to consider how to take the work forward.
The Spiritual Care Series course made a big impact on Pam and the rest of the pilot group:
‘We were absolutely enamoured by it. We thought it was wonderful. It was such an excellent course. We all agreed how helpful it had been.’
The group was ‘quite ecumenical’, and included two Methodists (one a Methodist minister), Baptists, a community church member, as well as Anglicans. Regardless of background, ‘people loved it.’
‘First, it was an extremely professional presentation,’ says Pam, ‘and second, it was totally relevant. It explored situations that all of us were likely to encounter at some point in our work with older people. Two things, in particular, made a strong impression on us, first, the power of storytelling, and second, how to be active listeners. The two are related. All of us, whether we're readers, pastoral visitors, normal church members, whatever we are, we need to consciously learn how to listen properly. To really hear somebody else's story is so powerful, for the person speaking and for the person listening. And, of course, for older people, it becomes even more relevant because they've got masses more stories to tell. An older person has a lifetime of story.’
Pam says it’s important to be clear that this isn't a counselling course, but some of the skills explored in the sessions ‘are relevant to all of us in ministry.’
Another aspect of the course which Pam and her colleagues appreciated was the chance to look at the actual process of ageing, whether it's physical, mental or spiritual ageing. ‘It was,’ she says, ‘helpful to understand a bit more about the process of ageing and the definition of spirituality, which is such a slippery word! What do we mean when we use the word “spirituality”?’
One of the key things about the course is that it’s relevant to people in all denominations, all religions even and people of no religion. It can be adapted to different groups, but what Pam loved from the outset was that it does have a definite Christian ethos. ‘It’s not plugging it in a Bible-thumping way, but every episode opens with a short Bible reflection and different members of the group would take it in turns to open in prayer, for instance, and set the tone for that session.’
Pam went on to run the course in Hexham, with eleven people, in early 2019, and online, with Margaret Weaver in Morpeth, in 2020. On 25 June 2022, at a ‘Northern gathering’, they will consider how to take the work forward:
‘People are coming out of the pandemic bruised and battered and we’re taking up the reins again. It's really going to be important, of course it is. People are ageing just as much; people are just as lonely. The need for this kind of ministry hasn't gone away, quite the opposite, and we need to respond.’
What, then, are Pam’s hopes and expectations for the Spiritual Care Series materials?
‘I think the whole point of this work is to make our ministry more intentional. I think that being more intentional in our reaching out to older people, and in our ministry to them is vital. I hope we’ll be able to convey that message on 25 June and remind people what there is out there.’
The course does involve quite a lot of roleplay, which Pam and her colleagues found difficult but ultimately very useful: ‘People took it in turns to take on the roles suggested in the material – either as the storyteller or the listener, and then there were some fairly practical exercises: simple things like where you sit or stand, which can make a surprising difference.’
‘When we came to the end of the course, we thought, “Wow! This is so good and so important, we could easily run this locally”, I said rashly.’