Learning and Development
Former ‘Songs of Praise’ and television news presenter Debbie Thrower shared her ministry as an ‘Anna Chaplain’ with the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘The Gift of Years’ project with around seventy readers, clergy and others at Holy Nativity Church, Chapel House, on the 10th March.
Presenting some startling statistics about projected life expectancy (some babies born today may well live to 120 or beyond) and demographics (30 years from now there will be three times as many over-85s in the UK as there are today), she spoke about the growing need for the church to minister to those dealing with age and infirmity for long periods.
‘Anna Chaplaincy’ is named after Anna, the aged woman in Luke’s Gospel who had waited in the Temple for so many years to see the coming Messiah, and who recognised him in the infant Jesus brought in by his parents.
The concept of a practical chaplaincy to older people began when Debbie (herself a reader in the Diocese of Winchester) responded to the needs of her own ageing parents, and later she was able to win the support of the Bible Reading Fellowship, a charity (and well-known publisher) which supports a number of mission initiatives and which was pleased to address the needs of older people by launching its project, ‘The Gift of Years’.
Anna Chaplaincy aims to support and restore purpose, dignity and often a sense of identity to those who may be experiencing loss through bereavement, infirmity and sometimes through various forms of dementia. It does not proselytise – actively attempt to persuade people to adopt or re-adopt Christian Faith. Rather it aims to embody the love and presence of God, and so to allow the Holy Spirit to work as it will.
Seventy readers, clergy and others engaged with pressing issues.
As delegates jotted down names of people, things, ideas, activities that they loved – and then randomly ‘lost’ them on the floor to see how they felt about what they were left with, Debbie and her colleague Alex Burn advocated a role for churches in building partnerships within communities to meet practical needs that will support dignity and independence.
“I'm delighted that this has been a reader-led initiative but now I hope lay people and clergy will really get behind the need for much ministry among the expanding older population,” said Debbie.
“The Anna model offers such a tried and tested way of getting this work really off the ground. We were very grateful that Bishop Frank committed so much time to the day and offered his own reflections on ageing. I felt a real sense that those present had a desire to address these pressing issues and recognized that a church with an older group fully engaged, affirmed and valued is healthy and growing church.”
(Newcastle Diocesan website)
Some of the delegates
Another photo of delegates hard at work.