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.' Our current Anna Chaplain is Revd. Rachel Sturt (01252 710968).
Photos: Top.-Rachel Sturt
Below -Debbie Thrower
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.
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. 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. The Alton Anna Chaplaincy work has expanded beyond the town and Jonathan now works in the Bentley area.
Helen Jesty retired from the post in 2017 and the Revd. Rachel Sturt was appointed.
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) initiative The Gift of Years, 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, thanks to BRF's commitment to The Gift of Years, as does the work of other members of the 'network' further afield.
Visit of the Methodist Vice-President in 2016!
Debbie Thrower wrote; "We're looking forward to the visit to Alton this month by the Methodist Vice-President Gill Dascombe. She is a clinical pharmacist by profession and a Local Preacher. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak in March at a conference of Methodist Lay Workers at High Leigh in Hertfordshire, when she rallied her colleagues saying, 'my calling is to the laity. Lay ministry is not second best.'
I inwardly cheered! What a good message to hear, as someone involved in lay ministry myself, as a Church of England Reader (or LLM, Licensed Lay Minister, as we are now known in the Winchester Diocese). It is heartening to see more and more lay people getting involved in church in all sorts of ways as part of the call, to us all, to be disciples of Jesus.
I was relieved that GAP (the Greater Alton Project) had the foresight to allow lay people like me to apply for the role of Chaplain to Older People, back in 2009, for example. Otherwise I might never have been able to become an Anna Chaplain. Can this really be my sixth year, having started in January 2010?
Next year marks the 150th anniversary of modern day Reader ministry and there are ambitious plans to mark the occasion by making 'a gift to the church' of a grand day out in the Midlands called "Follow."*
Leicester's De Montfort Hall has been booked, which seats more than two thousand people. Dr Paula Gooder, an eminent New Testament scholar (and a Reader herself) is to be a speaker, and there's going to be a vast array of activities on offer at what's billed as 'A Celebration of Discipleship," open to everyone — that's all denominations.
I hope from Alton we may organise a GAP coach, maybe, to travel up to it on July 16? Anna Chaplaincy to Older People will be represented there through The Gift of Years — 'resourcing the spiritual journey of older people'. Some of you will know I am now The Gift of Years Team Leader, as well as remaining a part-time Anna Chaplain here and, of course, our chaplaincy, and all that is done here ecumenically and in partnership with other visitors also promoting the spiritual welfare of older people locally, lies at the heart of this national initiative since last year.
As well as The Gift of Years, another part of The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) is 'Messy Church,' which also began in a Hampshire parish. Messy Church is on the list of organisations which will be represented in Leicester too.
It was on Ascension Day 1866 that the order of Readers was re-inaugurated, and in 2016 the wider church promises to join together in celebrating in some style the 150 years since that historic event.
Readers are called to 'preach, teach and lead worship.' I'm so pleased to have been able to pursue a lay ministry in this way, and thankful to all of you who support me and our other Anna Chaplains. Helen Jesty is an ordained Deacon, and Jonathan Rooke, our latest Anna Chaplain, will be licensed as an LLM in Winchester Cathedral in October.
To be involved in lay ministry is not to be an also ran, given the title as a sort of consolation prize for not being good enough for priestly ministry. It is a distinctive vocation in its own right.
There are nearly ten thousand such unpaid, volunteer lay ministers in the Church of England. Our newest recruit to Anna Chaplaincy- in St Anne's in Lancashire- is also from the laity. Richard Golding is a former teacher and now a local preacher and Anna Chaplain for Community-based Mission and Ministry to Older People within the South Fylde Circuit of the Methodist Church.
I think it's terrific what the Methodist Church is doing to promote chaplaincy nationally through its movement 'Chaplaincy Everywhere.' We hope the Vice-President, will enjoy seeing, among other things here, an example in practice of what the Methodist Connexion is championing, and specifically helping to fund in the way of Helen's (now Rachel's) appointment as a GAP Anna Chaplain in Alton and surrounding villages. Gill Dascombe is assured of a warm welcome when she comes in May 19."