Anna Chaplaincy takes its name from the faithful older characters in the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, Simeon and Anna. Simeon lived to see God's promise to him fulfilled but he then faded into the background to die, we assume, a happy man. He was undoubtedly a faithful man, and we conjecture that he was an older person, but as he leaves the scene the widow Anna emerges.
Anna is recorded as being 84, and to have been widowed for many decades. She speaks of redemption to all who will listen. The name Anna aptly enough means 'grace'.
Anna Chaplaincy is a gracious response to the biblical imperative to 'look after widows' and the vulnerable. We assume God has a special care for those in older age, if the number of references to longevity, old age, long life and its many blessings in any Bible Concordance is anything to go by.
A contemporary poet, Nicola Slee, has written a poem about Anna, which partly inspired the name of the chaplaincy. Her poem Anna encapsulates many of the transformative factors inherent in this ministry.
I've learnt to live on little.
My body has long forgotten a husband's ardent embraces,
and there were no children to take me into their homes.
My home has become the Temple,
my bed a dark corner under one of the portico's pillars.
I've no possessions to speak of.
I've learnt to live in silence,
every day offering my emptiness up
to mingle with the incense of the sacrifices burning on the altar.
I live on what the pilgrims give me
from the remains of their cooked meat,
when the priests have taken their fill.
I've learnt the passage of time,
how the speeding years
slow to one endless moment
that is never accomplished,
how the mind and the body hold themselves
patiently in readiness
while the waiting goes on growing.
I've learnt how the Word comes
rising like fire from a thrown spark
or dropping like a stone
into the stilled mind's surface.
Old as I am, and hollowed out by
prayer and silence and weeping and fasting,
I live for that quickening,
for the pouring that will rise up and overflow all containment,
that my own thirst may be kindled,
my body leap into flame.
In that moment, I'm a young girl again,
and the Word fills my arms like a lover,
sucks at my shrivelled breast like a baby,
pours down my body like fire,
like the dousing of water.
Reproduced with permission from The Book of Mary (2007, SPCK)