By Carol Hayes
As Remembrance Sunday draws near our thoughts turn more and more towards those we have lost and those who are nearing the end of their lives. While there’s a growing focus on youth and young families Anna Chaplaincy offers support for older people, both emotionally and spiritually. They are named after the widow, Anna, who appears with Simeon in Luke’s gospel. Both are good role models of faithful older people and Anna Chaplains are there for people of strong, little or no faith.
Anna Chaplains visit the elderly wherever they may be living, whether in residential or nursing homes, sheltered housing, retirement complexes or other private homes. The emphasis is on spiritual support but people’s practical struggles will also play a part in their overall wellbeing.
Increasingly many older people are feeling that they are beyond the interest and concern of their wider community and even, sometimes, their church. Life for the elderly can be isolating as well as challenging. Spiritual support provided in a gentle and loving way brings comfort and succour to people who may be at a low point in their lives, enabling them to live with greater meaning and purpose.
Some of those who become Anna Chaplains, or Anna Friends, are themselves post-retirement and discover new meaning and impetus through helping others.
Ellen Holah is a Community Police Officer in Exeter. She has been an Anna Chaplain for two and a half years and she spoke to me about how it all came about:
“Through my police work I came into contact with an elderly lady of 99, who thought she had been scammed on the ‘phone. She was still living on her own, was profoundly deaf, losing her sight and she’d had enough of life. She tried various times to end it all and the only relative was an 86 year old niece, living in Cardiff. I was upset and appalled by this elderly lady’s situation so I contacted my Bishop and she told me about Anna Chaplains. That was during Covid and I began my training on-line. Sadly, help was too late for this 99 year old as she eventually succeeded in taking her own life.”
Ellen visits anyone living in her parish. Some will have a strong faith, some will not.
At the moment Ellen is visiting a 99 year old once a week. Her daughter rang the pastoral team asking if someone could visit and Ellen now sends regular texts to the daughter who is unable to visit her mother herself. Then there is 90 year old Dora, who Ellen also visits once a week; John at 80 years old, every fortnight, and Annie at 99, who Ellen visits every four to six weeks. Annie has family visitors so is not so isolated. Although Anna Chaplains will visit people in care and residential homes Ellen prefers to visit the elderly who are still living in their own homes:
“Everyone is different and everyone wants to talk about different things. When I first visited Dora she had no contact with her family or anyone else, apart from someone who did her weekly shop. It is so rewarding to see how she has blossomed over the years I’ve been visiting; she is a much happier person. With Annie the family are often present. I’m not sure where she stands with the Lord but the family seem very comforted when I pray with her. Then there’s Bea, a vet’s wife and farmer’s daughter. She loves blood and gore, and can’t wait to ask me if I’ve attended any grisly ‘call outs’ doing my day job.”
There are both Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends. The Anna Chaplains take the lead in church and the Anna Friends volunteer as helpers. The Friends don’t take on the full responsibility of the Chaplains and there is less on-going training. Ellen would encourage everyone who cares about the welfare of the elderly to get involved:
“If you have a heart for the older person then becoming an Anna Chaplain is incredibly rewarding. I feel I have gained as much, if not more, from my relationships with the people I visit. If, initially, you are a little wary of becoming an Anna Chaplain then try volunteering as an Anna Friend first – you can always go on to become an Anna Chaplain later.”
To find out more information go to: www.annachaplaincy.org.uk
There you will find details about Anna Chaplains in your area, how to apply to become an Anna Chaplain and how to request a visit for an elderly relative or friend.