Resourcing the spiritual journey of older people

What is an Anna Chaplain?

Promoting spiritual well-being

First and foremost an Anna Chaplain is someone who will listen. An Anna Chaplain is sent out by their congregation to work with people of strong, little or no faith at all. Their task is to promote the spiritual welfare of men and women. Many different kinds of people are involved in pastoral visiting, taking a care home service and offering a listening ear.

What is distinctive about Anna Chaplaincy is that it is ecumenical, community based and it takes a narrative approach to helping people navigate the choppy waters of older age. Anna Chaplains are sent out with the authority, credibility and affirmation of the churches in whose name they visit.

The community nature of this form of chaplaincy is what makes it so key to expanding ministry among older people. Debbie Thrower, the UK's first Anna Chaplain says: It's like planting a flag in the middle of town and saying 'older people matter'.

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Anna Chaplaincy offers hope to those in later life. It is a gracious gift from local churches to promote the spiritual well-being of older people. It affirms those in later life, helping them to celebrate the gift of life, while not underestimating the difficulties associated with growing older.

It offers resources for renewal through re-connecting people who may have been churchgoers to the church before a loss of mobility caused their horizons to close in. But it is equally for those of little, or no faith, as well as their relatives and carers.

Exploration and transformation

In a non-judgemental way, it enables the exploration, together, of life's big questions:

  • Why are we here?
  • Have I lived a 'good' life?
  • Have I invested my time in the right things, and in the right ways?
  • Must I forgive?
  • What happens to me after death?

Some older people are burdened with guilt about things they have done, or failed to do, in the past. Christians believe no one, however heinous their crimes or misdemeanours, is beyond the reach of God's love, and his power to redeem and transform.

An Anna Chaplain to Older People offers hope of transformation through a blend of friendship and intensive listening, and by sharing the gospel when appropriate. By hearing and reflecting back to people the stories of their life, and their memories, individuals can be helped to make sense of their identity - past, present and future.

Bereavement counsellor, Jenny Osterfield, says:

It is such a privilege to be trusted, and you are trusted. People will tell you things, trust you with things; pearls of wisdom which stay with you, and you think about them. You get so much love from people. You get so much love back. So it's not all altruistic. Not by any means.