30 November 2009

Former BBC newsreader appointed as "chaplain to older people" in Alton

Broadcaster Debbie Thrower has been appointed by Churches in Alton as the new "chaplain to older people". The appointment has been funded by The Simeon Trust through The Greater Alton Project or GAP, a partnership of Anglican and Methodist Churches in the town.

Working as Simeon Chaplain, Debbie will be concerned for the spiritual welfare of people in residential care and sheltered accommodation in Alton. She is the first Simeon Chaplain in the country.

The Simeon Trust was founded to promote the spiritual welfare of older people and it is intended that more chaplains will be appointed in other parts of the UK. In the Bible, Simeon was the elderly man who first discerned that Jesus, who was then just a baby being brought by his parents to the Temple, was the Son of God and long-hoped for Saviour (Luke 2: 25-35).

"Hope is what the new job is all about," said Debbie, who is also a lay minister (or Reader) in the Church of England. "I seek to come alongside not only older people but also their relatives, carers and staff working in residential care. It is the clearest possible message from the churches I'll represent that older people matter."

Debbie, 52, is a former BBC national newsreader, presenter of South Today and was for many years one of the best known faces in the region presenting ITV's "Meridian Tonight" with Fred Dinenage.

"It is a fresh challenge for me and it is a great privilege to be taking on this representative role for the congregations who are demonstrating their commitment to help people at a time in their lives which can be beset with difficulties," she said.

"As health fails, fears can grow and a chaplain comes alongside people to bring reassurance and hope that the God of love is with us at all stages of our life."

Debbie, who starts as chaplain in January, will be using her married surname Thompson.

"I hope to combine this part-time work with my other freelance broadcasting projects working as Debbie Thrower, and I am very excited by the opportunity to become an advocate for older people," she added. "It is pioneering work in many ways, and it is the dream that Simeon chaplains will become commonplace in communities across the country. The need for it is immense, especially with a growing older population."

Revd Canon Peter Doores, who is the Priest in Charge at St Lawrence Church, said: "We are pleased to appoint Debbie as Simeon Chaplain. It has been our aspiration for some time to offer older people better spiritual support and help them to continue to make important contributions to the life of our local community."

"Debbie has both knowledge and experience of the changing needs of the elderly," said Revd Keith Underhill from Alton Methodist Church. "Her journalistic background is a bonus that will make her a valuable asset to this pioneering post."

Since leaving ITV Meridian earlier this year, Debbie has returned to her former station BBC Radio Solent as guest presenter. She fronted a weekday show on BBC Radio 2 for five years in the 90's and regularly appeared on BBC 1's "Songs of Praise."

Six years ago she began the three year training to be a Reader, licensed to preach, teach and lead worship, gaining a Certificate of Christian Theology and Ministry from the University of Winchester. She is married with two teenage children and lives near Alresford.

A hi-res photo of Debbie is available here.

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