Meeting the needs of older people in our churches and beyond

(Photo: Unsplash/Claudia van Zyl)

Many churches employ children's workers or youth leaders – but how many have appointed people to minister specifically to the older people in their congregation and beyond?

In St Albans, north of London, UK, two Methodist churches have joined together to recruit an 'Anna Chaplain' to help meet the needs of seniors in local church congregations and beyond.

The new role is part of a growing network of Anna Chaplains, named after the widow, Anna, who appears in Luke's gospel as a good role model of a faithful older person.

The development comes as charities that work with older people have published research showing how badly the pandemic has impacted those aged 60 and above, and raised questions about how well they will 'bounce back' after Covid-19.

Age UK has called on the Government to give the NHS and social care services extra resources to help older people make the best possible recovery.

With coronavirus now hopefully in retreat in the UK, the charity has also appealed to the wider public to keep supporting the older people in their lives

It said: "The impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of some older people in early 2021 is so demonstrably severe that it raises big questions over whether they will be able to 'bounce back'.

"The adverse effect may prove long lasting in many cases, or even irreversible, with big implications for the NHS and social care in the months and years to come."

Against this background, Maggie Dodd, the first Anna Chaplain in Hertfordshire, told Dr Nighat Arif on BBC Three Counties Radio: "Our vision is that older people are cherished and supported within their church communities, and also beyond in the wider community.

"Often you have people who used to attend church, and they've become a little more frail and not able to attend or they've moved to a care home or sheltered housing, and they just lose touch with what's going on. They're not able to take themselves to church anymore.

"We want to make sure that these older people still feel part of a church community, even though they may not be as able as they were."

The work of Anna Chaplains includes ministry in care homes and other settings where older people live or gather. At this time of year, some churches organise 'holiday at home' projects and activities for seniors in their area.

Anna Chaplains are a ministry of Christian charity, the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), who have a vision "to see an Anna Chaplain in every small and medium-sized community in the country, and for the Anna Chaplain name to become synonymous with spiritual care for older people."

Anna Chaplains, they say, "are there for people of strong, little or no faith at all."

The chaplaincy to older people began in Alton, Hampshire, in 2010. There are now dozens of Anna Chaplains working across the country – spreading in recent years to other parts of Hampshire, the south coast, Kent, West and East Sussex, the Midlands, Northumbria and now Hertfordshire.

The first Anna Chaplain, former broadcaster and Licensed Lay Minister Debbie Thrower, works for BRF as the founder and pioneer of this work.

The Anna Chaplaincy network has its own prayer too:

Faithful God, you have promised in Christ to be with us to the end of time.

Come close to those who have lived long and experienced much.

Help them to continue to be faithful and, within the all-age kingdom of God, to find ways to go on giving and receiving your grace, day by day.

For your glory and your kingdom. Amen.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, UK, and the author of 'Responding to Post-truth.'