Spiritual care for older people – the work of Anna chaplains - a personal view by Debbie Thrower

Debbie Thrower, Anna Chaplain and Team Leader of The Gift of Years programme

Anna Chaplaincy is named after an elderly widow who is mentioned alongside Simeon in Luke's gospel.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2: 36-38

Debbie pioneered Anna Chaplaincy in the town of Alton, Hampshire. Here she describes something of what it entails.

A local care home called to request an Anna Chaplain say prayers for a resident in her eighties who was dying. I was told she had no family and to come as soon as possible as she didn’t have very long to live.

This sort of relationship with staff, so they feel able to ask the chaplain to call, has been built up in Alton, Hampshire, over several years. Likewise, our local community hospital has the phone numbers of Anna Chaplains, and the wider ministry teams, so someone from church may be called at short notice.

It’s a privilege to be with someone in the final stages of their life. The lady concerned that day was not speaking when I arrived, and there were few clues as to her past life as I looked around her compact single room, except for a faded wedding photograph. It’s hard to imagine oneself in a similar position, being ministered to in the last few hours of life by a stranger with scant knowledge of what has made us who we are over the years.

As I said prayers, hoping she might yet be able to hear, even if she made no visible sign of doing so, I had the distinct impression this was someone very precious in God’s sight; it was almost as if she were on the ‘launch pad’, ready for the next stage of her journey. Destination: Home… with her Creator.  

Another time, a care home manager asked how other homes managed the whole business of breaking the news that someone had died? Here’s what I suggested:

  • inform closest friends in the home first
  • make a notice announcing the news and place it somewhere prominent, like the hall table, preferably together with a display of fresh flowers
  • make sure care assistants don’t fill the dining place of the deceased straight away, so others may reflect on the empty chair for a few days, knowing they too will be noticed when they have gone
  • assure people they’ll be told when the funeral will happen and that transport will be provided for those able to attend
  • make available Orders of Service afterwards for those who couldn’t go themselves
  • include prayers for the deceased at the next available church service in the home
  • if there isn’t one already, initiate an annual service of remembrance, featuring a roll call of everyone who has died over the past 12 months, so staff and residents alike may pay their respects.

Table set in memory of Jenny Wenham, late resident of Borovere Care Home

Alton Methodist Church has held two Saturday events entitled ‘The Final Journey’ over the years - death fairs, really, for want of a better expression - at which people can talk to funeral directors, caterers, florists, and hear talks about lasting power of attorney, palliative care, registering a death, and generally air their hopes and fears about life after death.

Final Journey event

For more information about the programmes described in this article see the BRF’s website, The Gift of Years.


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