Anna Chaplains – why do our older people need them?
Anna Chaplains are commissioned to look after the spiritual needs of older people, ensuring that they are valued for more than just being a good sort who helps out behind the scenes. But do they need them?
Jill Adams and Susan Godolphin believe they do and that they have been called to this special ministry. Both were recently commissioned by the Venerable Paul Bryer, Archdeacon of Cornwall. Like Jesus’ disciples, they feel strongly that they have been sent, and it is this sending that resonates.
“I worked in worked in care for the older community for many years,” says Jill. “Tending to people’s physical needs but not really allowed to offer spiritual support. So it’s so freeing to now be released into this ministry.”
Likewise for Susan. “I’ve worked all my life in children’s work. Both as a leader in the Girls Brigade and as a licensed Reader, going into schools for assemblies and encouraging children during family services. I thought I was about to enjoy retirement but then clearly felt God nudging me towards this ministry for older people. For me, the catalyst was hearing how many of our older folk felt about church after the pandemic.”
“For me, the catalyst was hearing how many of our older folk felt about church after the pandemic.”
Overnight, the pandemic cut off older people from their support networks
The pandemic was hard on everyone, but as Susan identified, it impacted on the way many older people felt about their church. Overnight they were cut off from a support system that shaped their routine and community. A place where they felt at home, at peace and included. Unlike many younger people, older people didn’t feel liberated by the explosion of online services, podcasts and zoom gatherings. They felt left behind. And when they finally were able to return to their beloved churches, for some, everything had changed.
For some, when they finally came back to church, everything had changed
In Camborne, where Susan is based, they have been blessed with an amazing Transforming Mission team, most of whom joined the cluster during the pandemic. They worked hard to grow the church, reach out to the unchurched, and are making a genuine impact on the lives of young people and their families. But when the older people returned to church, it wasn’t the same as they had left it.
Some would say that’s a good thing, churches must change. The aging demographic of our congregations is well publicised, and much is made of how churches will fade away in step with their parishioners. But what about all those people for whom church services are sacred? They are faithful, long serving, much enduring and take huge comfort from everything remaining as it was.
So how can churches please everyone and where do Anna Chaplains fit in?
So how does any church walk that line and please everyone? How do you answer Jesus’ call to go out in the world and make disciples of everyone if we remain in our cosy church clubs? And how do you nurture faithful older people who have served their time and simply want the comfort, reassurance and care that traditional services offer?
That’s where Anna Chaplains have a role, as Jill explains. “We’re not here to simply visit older people at home, but to bring the church with us to work together as a family to take better care of those amongst us who are feeling isolated.” Jill often saw church leaflets in the care homes in which she worked, but rarely saw anyone come in. “It’s hard when you’ve worshipped all your life in a familiar tradition, started at Sunday school, maybe rung the bells, played the organ, helped where you could, or simply just worshipped and prayed. And then mobility becomes impaired. It’s impossible to get to church, you don’t want to be a burden. You’re in a home or trying to live independently with carers but getting to church is no longer possible. And you feel forgotten.”
“It’s hard when you’ve worshipped all your life … And then mobility becomes impaired. It’s impossible to get to church, you don’t want to be a burden. You’re in a home or trying to live independently with carers but getting to church is no longer possible. And you feel forgotten.”
What is said and what is heard and how Anna Chaplains ease that tension
Hard too when you hear the church has to change, the way you worship isn’t going to grow the church and your needs have to be set aside. That might not be what is said, but too often that is what is heard.
Anna Chaplains help to ease that tension and be a voice for older people. “They have so much to offer, so many amazing stories of a life-lived,” says Susan. “I would love to see more opportunities for young and old people to get together and share knowledge. Young people are amazing with technology and most older people aren’t. Many have been given iPads and iPhones, but they don’t know how to use them or get the best from them – young people could do that for them. Likewise, older people love to fix and mend things, there must be a way to bring people together so each respects the others’ skills and abilities and has the chance to talk and feel valued.”
“And young people like the sense of tradition and history that churches offer,” says Jill. “We rang the bells for our local school to remember the Queen, and they really appreciated that. Our bells are in disrepair, and we had to do something unconventional to make them work! But imagine if the bells rang out regularly, becoming a feature of our everyday, reminding people that the church is there for them.” Jill talked about one young girl who used to bring her grandfather to church, and when he died, she kept coming as she enjoyed the companionship of older people. Likewise, a young man walked in because he’d lost a friend to suicide and wanted the reassurance of older people around him.
“Imagine if the bells rang out regularly, becoming a feature of our everyday, reminding people that the church is there for them.”
A daunting but exciting task ahead
For Jill and Susan, it’s clear that God is in the mix. It’s no coincidence that these two women, who only met at the commissioning, live nearby to each other. Susan in Camborne and Jill in Illogan. Both feel a little daunted by the task ahead, but excited too. “There are so many ways that we can help,” says Jill. “I’ve been thinking about the older people who are discharged from hospital because their beds are needed and unexpectedly go into a nursing home. It’s very bewildering. They didn’t plan to have a fall or become unwell and so didn’t choose to leave their homes. I’m thinking of how the Anna Chaplaincy can help.”
The Anna Chaplaincy is a great national support network. Susan and Jill are line-managed, so they never feel they are alone. It’s so valuable to be able to share concerns, sound out ideas and have accountability. Anna Chaplains regularly get together at national gatherings either in person or on Zoom. Experience and stories are shared and there is always someone who has been through what you might be facing.
Could retired people be another missing generation?
Jill adds a final thought. “I know many congregations are aging, and I know it’s vital to reach out to the young. They might not appear on a Sunday, but you never know the seeds you are planting. In my experience, it is the older people who are coming back to the church. We have a consistent congregation of around 30 people, gently turning over. The newer members are not that young, they’re often retired, but they keep on coming. For them, their comfort lies in the pages of older worship songs, like in Mission Praise, rather than Hymns. So that’s a thought – a missing generation with time, disposable income and a hunger to for God.”
Newer members are not that young, they’re often retired, but they keep on coming. For them, their comfort lies in the pages of older worship songs, like in Mission Praise, rather than Hymns. So that’s a thought – a missing generation with time, disposable income and a hunger to for God.”
It was inspiring meeting Jill and Susan and a reminder that the Church of England is a broad church. From 0- 90+ its mysteries endure, like faith itself, impossible to confine and always ready with a surprise.
If you feel called to become an Anna Chaplain, or want to find out more, click on the link: Anna Chaplaincy