Jayne Edinboro, Reader at All Saints and in the Whitstable Team, writes about her journey towards becoming an Anna Chaplain.
I am delighted to have be invited to write an article in this newsletter about Anna Chaplaincy, as I am to be commissioned as an Anna Chaplain at our Team Advent Service on 5th December 2021 at 6.30 pm at All Saints church Whitstable (do hope you can join us).
Anna Chaplains I hear you say – who or more specifically what are they?
I asked the same question several years ago when I was present at Canterbury Cathedral being admitted to the Canterbury Diocese as a Reader when several people were commissioned as Anna Chaplains.
I was very familiar with the role of a chaplain having worked as a volunteer hospital chaplain for many years but Anna Chaplains was not something with which I was familiar. My interest was caught and I made enquiries.
I can do no better than quote from the Bible Reading Fellowship web site the organisation which oversees Anna Chaplaincy :-
“The Anna name reinforces the fact that much of the work is with those who have suffered loss and bereavement. It is a hope-filled ministry which highlights the tradition of older people having prophetic voices, and which recognises that many older people have wisdom to impart to younger generations and life lessons to share when it comes to spiritual formation. Appropriately, Anna, the name, means ‘gift’ or ‘grace’. “Anna” was chosen for its echoes of Anna, the widow and faithful older person who, together with Simeon, recognised the baby Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfilment of God’s promises”.
During my time as a hospital chaplain I became acutely aware that the elderly were almost a forgotten and side lined generation. Our culture almost venerates youth. Much is made in our churches of youth work, family ministry but the elderly seem less important.
One day while talking to an elderly lady who had broken her hip and was according to the nursing staff being “difficult”, I had a most illuminating conversation - she suddenly said to me “so what do you see when you look at me in my wheelchair?” I cannot walk, my teeth are in a jar, my lifeline to hearing are my hearing aids, my eye sight is poor – people think me difficult and cantankerous but in truth I am utterly frustrated. I was not always like this – once I was young and danced the night away. I was young, pretty, fell in love, married, raised a family had grandchildren, was churchwarden, sang in the choir but now I am old and useless. No one visits, my family have moved away, my husband died long ago and my church has forgotten me- I have nothing to offer”.
I was deeply moved and upset in equal measure – her words spoken several decades ago have remained with me ever since.
The elderly, particularly those living with life changing conditions, dementia and Parkinsons to name just two, are frequently side-lined almost dare I say a nuisance. But to have a balanced society we need to recognise and celebrate both the young and the elderly. All are loved equally by God.
People living with dementia and Parkinsons struggle to cope with everyday tasks and situations, church becomes a challenge and not a place of solace and support as they cannot cope with the services, the sermons are too long and too involved.
The statistics for those living with dementia are truly frightening. It is anticipated that one in fourteen people over the age of 65 are living with dementia – 850,000 people. This does not take account those people who as yet do not have an official diagnosis. The toll on family and friends and carers is unimaginable.
Discovering Anna chaplaincy was a light bulb moment for me, as I care passionately about the elderly in our community. During lockdown I signed up for the Anna Chaplaincy course and discussed a possible ministry with Rev Simon Tillotson and Rev Rachel Webbley - both were extremely supportive.
My vision is to bring Anna Chaplaincy to our community here in Whitstable – to be along side our elderly, their families and carers, to offer a church service once a month which is accessible and appropriate, to help make our churches places where those living with dementia and other conditions, feel welcomed and affirmed, to have Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends (those who support the Anna Chaplains in their role in the community) visiting all out care homes – this is a long term vision.
Anna Chaplains are there for all in our community those of faith and no faith, to be alongside people in their later years, to walk with them, to be an enabler, a friend an advocate, a listener, a friend, someone on whom they can rely. They can enable spiritual care, which is not necessarily religious. Spiritual care offers love, friendship, hope, comfort in ways that are meaningful to those concerned. Living with dementia and other age related illnesses should not be a barrier to a relationship with God and being part of a worshipping community.
I would however stress that Anna Chaplaincy is not intended in any way to replace the valuable pastoral work being undertaken by the pastoral teams in our parish – it is simply meant to complement the work already being undertaken. If anyone reading this feels called to Anna Chaplaincy or to be an Anna Friend or would like further information please do not hesitate to contact me
God bless and I hope you will be able to join with us on 5th December 2021.
Please pray for this new ministry here in Whitstable .