Revd Ian Toombs: October 2015
Anna in Cyprus.
Rather like St Paul and Barnabas, Debbie Thrower and I landed in Cyprus in October to spread the message of spiritual care for isolated older people, and in particular, the potentially useful model of the Anna ministry.
I have been visiting Cyprus for many years. Because I go so often I have made friends with local Greek Cypriots and it was from them — not sadly from the church people — that I became aware of the increasing numbers of isolated elderly English speaking people living in the Limassol and Paphos area.
Many men and women are now unable to cope as they live alone in inappropriate accommodation, next to neighbours who are never there. Increasingly they are unwilling or unable to return to Britain due to the Cypriot property slump, and many now have few relatives and friends alive in the UK. So returning home may be to a nursing home in a much changed country, in an unknown location where they know no one.
Cypriot acquaintances told me of taking food to elderly housebound ex-pats. One said he could name 10 elderly expats in his village whose partners had died, who had no visitors and were struggling to cope. The lack of social services and public transport means that if an elderly ex-pat is unable to drive it is very difficult to manage. One Cypriot told me that he arranged the funeral of an 84 year old British man living alone, and notified his distant relatives, and this Cypriot only knew him because he serviced the man's car!
Where the elderly have been church people, the church may have some contact with them. But for the rest the problem is largely hidden because practising church people are a fraction of the thousands of English speakers living on the Island.
Sadly, it's also a hidden problem because ex-pats who are 'living the dream' are sometimes in denial and don't think it will ever happen to them.
When the Paphos Churchwardens asked me to take services in the area, I discussed this issue with the Revd Nic, the vicar. He asked about Alton and our ecumenical partnership and how we handled our ministry to the elderly.
Nic recognised that with thousands of over 60 year old ex-pats in the area, whatever the current size of the problem — given that we are tending to live longer, and fewer are able to return home — the issue will only get bigger and bigger.
So Revd Nic suggested I talk to church people and see if they thought there was an issue needing attention. I talked to people in the churches in Limassol and Paphos and from those who responded, we set up a series of presentations earlier in the year. The feedback from those meetings was very positive and people wanted to know more.
Debbie was persuaded to visit in the hope it would stimulate interest and action further in Paphos and Limassol. While the Anna Ministry is not the only answer it could be part of the answer; a timely response to a pressing need.
This ministry includes advocacy of the needs of the elderly, seeking to enable the spiritual life our older brothers and sisters as they continue to grow in faith, and not become out of touch, out of sight, and increasingly isolated.
Debbie had a very busy schedule and the local hospitality at the Carob Tree Retreat Centre at Nata and by others was generous and touching.
Our 'mission' had its disappointments and successes. But, overall, we are confident that developments are now under way to improve the care of, and contact with, older people. One example is of a far-seeing Chief Executive of a local hospice who saw the importance of developing community links through the churches for respite for the many ex-pats caring for their ailing partners.
Another highlight was the involvement of the Roman Catholics at the open Hospice meeting, where a lay Roman Catholic group is now committed to looking at Anna Chaplaincy and BRF's 'The Gift of Years' to see how it might dovetail with their style of ministry.
The full attendance of the PCC and those concerned with pastoral care at Limassol was impressive and inspiring. The warmth of the welcome and the existence of a working group already set up to build on the ideas presented, was encouraging.
A seminar on prayer at the Retreat centre deepened the commitment of a number of activists to progress relevant aspects of the Anna Ministry in the Paphos area too.
I was fortunate to arrange for Debbie TV and Radio coverage. In true trooper style, she was interviewed by the resident lunchtime DJ on for Rock FM and sunrise TV, Jason Collins. You can watch a brief clip at http://rockfmcyprus.com/lunch-box/ Debbie got the essential points across and we were delighted that the local media indicated they were keen to help 'spread the word' in the future.
Neither Debbie nor I were thrown out of the congregations we visited and flogged, like St Paul. But the denial of the downside of ex-pat life, as people age, has to be addressed. We are sure this visit has stirred things up! We know already that a number of actions are under way that will improve the care for older people and our ministry to them.
As I have been asked to cover some services in January 2016, whilst it is still very early, I will follow up and see whether the seeds we've sown are showing any shoots?
Revd Ian Toombs.
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