Resourcing the spiritual journey of older people

Why it works

A catalyst for change

Anna Chaplaincy is a catalyst for all sorts of changes. For example, the community in Alton has seen how attitudes and practices within the various care homes have changed over the past few years.

Ministers see the importance of Anna Chaplaincy in challenging and changing the ways churches view older people both in, and beyond, their congregations. The UK is only slowly waking up to the reality of demographic changes and the opportunities afforded by people who are in the more reflective stage of life - people who have wisdom both to gain and to impart.

The Anna Chaplain is a friend, guide and interpreter, helping to navigate through the unsettling waters of older age. The opportunity to become better acquainted with the latest research and literature on the subject means an Anna Chaplain can help to train others who visit and employ their listening skills.

An Anna Chaplain meets and accompanies a person at whatever stage of the journey they may be. The most precious gift an Anna Chaplain gives is their time.

Valuing someone's story

Debbie Thrower recalls a visit to an older woman living in a care home who was troubled one day:

I asked her if she would like to have a chat somewhere quiet and she agreed. When we were away from others, she admitted that she'd been boasting in a small group about her love life in the past.

You need to bear in mind that this woman was learning to live with dementia and one aspect of that was her loss of inhibitions from time to time. Aware that she'd said more than she should, she was afraid of being an object of ridicule, even of disgust, among the residents with whom she was now living.

I asked her to tell me a little more of how this had made her feel. She said she felt guilty and ashamed now of some of the things she had done in the past. Lively and sociable in her younger days, she had had 'flings' with people she now regretted, to some extent, and said she should not have boasted about any of this.

I said I would return the next day and see how she was, which I did. We talked some more and I suggested she might like to say sorry to God and receive forgiveness. That would help, I said, to put to rest the memories and the more recent incident and perhaps bring her more peace of mind. She said she would like that, and so I returned another day and we prayed a simple act of confession and absolution together.

Afterwards she said: 'Thank you. Why do you bother with a silly old woman like me?'

I told her that this was precisely why, as a chaplain, I am sent by the church  to see and talk with older people who might have problems of a spiritual nature.

'Well,' she said, 'please go back and tell them how very grateful I am.'

I can honestly report that this lady has been much more calm and contented since that time, and I'm sure that unburdening herself was part of the process of achieving greater strength for living in her new community setting, and enjoying a measure of serenity.

We all have a story to tell, some more perturbing to us than others. But the trouble is, who's listening? You don't need qualifications, all you need is a heart for listening and the ability to put the other person's needs, and story, first.