We are proud of our pioneering work among older people in and around Alton. Anna Chaplaincy to Older People is a blend of advocacy and pastoral work in partnership with others. We liken it to planting a flag in the middle of town saying, ‘Older people Matter.’
Anna Chaplaincy is named after the faithful older widow in Luke’s gospel story of Simeon and Anna. The approach is now central to a national initiative from The Bible Reading Fellowship, (BRF) called The Gift of Years — ‘resourcing the spiritual journey of older people.
In a society and church increasingly made up of older people there are more and more people who feel themselves to be beyond the interest and concern of the wider community. In a society and church increasingly focused on youth and families, being an older person can be isolating and challenging.
Anna Chaplaincy seeks to accompany older people at this stage of their life. It is an ecumenical, community-based, chaplaincy approach to promoting the spiritual welfare of older people. Anna Chaplaincy is a person-centred, non-judgemental ministry for people of strong, little or no faith at all.
It is a way of offering spiritual support to older people, especially (though not exclusively) to those living in residential and nursing homes and sheltered housing complexes, and to their relatives and the people who care for them.
Such a spiritual focus may express itself in helping people to reflect upon their life’s journey– both the joys and challenges–and, where appropriate, enable the healing of memories and the celebration of life-experiences so as to foster hope and resilience.
An Anna Chaplain also has a wider role within the community as an advocate and a champion of the contribution older people make to society. Such a chaplain enables cross-generational encounters in the church and wider community.
Spiritual support can enable older people to live more peacefully in their later years and be better prepared to face the end of their earthly life. The chaplaincy is intended to complement and run alongside, rather than replicating or replacing, ministry already being done by churches.
Chaplaincy to Older People began here in Alton, in 2010. as a way of drawing alongside people of strong, little or no faith.
The first Anna Chaplain, former broadcaster and Licensed Lay Minister Debbie Thrower, now works for BRF as Team Leader of The Gift of Years. She also remains a part-time Anna Chaplain here in Alton.
In May 2014, the Greater Alton Project recruited another Anna Chaplain, the Revd Helen Jesty, to consolidate this ministry and to develop it in new ways in tandem with the wider work nationally. Helen left us in April 2017 and we were fortunate to be able appoint Revd Rachel Sturt to replace her and join the team.
Later in 2014, a Licensed Lay Minister in training (Reader), Jonathan Rooke, also began working as an Anna Chaplain on a one-day-a-week voluntary basis in the town. Jonathan then took his new found gifts to a part time paid Anna Chaplain role with the Benefice of Bentley, Binsted and Froyle. He is now ordained and serving a self-supporting curacy in his home church in Four Marks.
This work is set within a mutually supportive ‘network’ of other chaplains involved in similar ministries in other parts of the country, all linked through BRF’s The Gift of Years initiative.
Anna Chaplaincy has now spread to Lancashire, and there are other lay and ordained ministers in other parts of the UK putting into practice what they have learnt while shadowing an Anna Chaplain here in Alton.
There is now a growing ‘network’ of such chaplains and others responsible for ministry among older people in different parts of the country, thanks to Anna Chaplaincy lying at the heart of The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) whose vision is to resource the spiritual journey of older people.
Anna Chaplains encourage the wider church to celebrate and cherish older members of their congregations, and older people and the contributions they make in society generally.
Anna Chaplaincy is a person-centred, non- judgmental ministry, for people of strong, little or no faith at all.
A feature of the work here in Alton, for example, has been its links with many of the town’s clubs, the advocacy role in the wider media, as well as the way the ministry extends to people facing challenges in their own homes and communities, as well as to those in residential care.
Our town remains an important test bed for good practice in other parts of the country. We praise God for the vitality and pioneering of Anna Chaplaincy.