Anna Chaplaincy for Older People celebrates ten years of service and growth

Hand near a candle

The cathedral was so well attended that latecomers had to share orders of service. The regular congregation and visitors from all over the world were joined by BRF guests, trustees and staff. The Dean, Martyn Percy, preached; Anna Chaplaincy founder and pioneer Debbie Thrower led prayers and reflections, BRF Chief Executive Richard Fisher read the gospel and Bishop Colin Fletcher, acting Bishop of Oxford and Chair of BRF’s Trustees gave the blessing.

‘… I believe Anna Chaplaincy to be a profound, prescient and prophetic sign for our age.’

The Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

Hundreds of flickering candles and the spine-tingling sound of the cathedral choir brought an air of wonder and expectation to a dank winter’s night.

After the service, guests were guided along the darkened quad to the Deanery where the Dean welcomed them to a packed reception in his drawing room. The sound of laughter and conversation rose as high as the ancient rafters as the waiters struggled to weave a way through the crush.

The Feast of Candlemas

The Feast of Candlemas – also known as the Presentation in the Temple – marks the occasion, 40 days after his birth, when the infant Jesus was taken to the Temple by his parents to fulfil the Jewish law. His arrival was greeted by Simeon and Anna: the elderly widow who lived a life of prayer in the Temple courts and from whom Anna Chaplaincy takes its name.

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 NRSV

In his sermon the Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy spoke of the timeliness of Anna Chaplaincy in an age marred by isolation, alienation and loneliness. While people of all ages are affected, it is the elderly who are most vulnerable:

‘…  Anna Chaplaincy, in seeking out the elderly, the lonely and the isolated does exactly what Jesus would have us do: and in so doing, we might challenge and transform our contemporary society.

‘Part of the genius of the Christmas and Candlemas narratives is rooted in the proactive work of Anna Chaplaincy.  Sometimes we need to seek Jesus – to go looking for him and make an effort.  But the gospel also tells it another way.  To those who cannot move or do not know, God will come to you.  Later in the life of Jesus, Jesus will meet seekers, but he will also proactively seek the neglected, confused, lost and ignorant, and those who’d never thought of looking.  God is there for them just as much.’

The Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

Debbie Thrower

It was amazing to be worshipping in such a hallowed space and giving thanks for all that’s been achieved in the past ten years. I hope the next decade will see us getting ever closer to our goal of an Anna Chaplain in every small to medium-sized community in the land, and achieving financial sustainability for Anna Chaplaincy into the future.

Debbie Thrower, Anna Chaplaincy Pioneer

A special celebration in Morpeth too…

The Christ Church service wasn’t the only Anna Chaplaincy celebration to take place on the Feast of Candlemas.

New Anna Chaplains were commissioned in Bath and Wells and Rochester dioceses, and 275 miles north, in Morpeth, Northumberland, 34 new Anna Chaplains were commissioned to work in the Diocese of Newcastle, giving a huge boost to BRF’s vision to have an Anna Chaplain in every small- and medium-sized community.

Anna Chaplaincy three people laughing

About Anna Chaplaincy

Anna Chaplaincy – offering spiritual care in later life – is part of The Bible Reading Fellowship. It’s named after the widow Anna, who appears with Simeon in Luke’s gospel.

The growing Anna Chaplaincy network currently has more than 130 Anna Chaplains and those in equivalent community-based roles across the UK supporting older people in residential settings, private homes and the wider community. Best practice is shared through networking, training and developing resources. Pioneered in Alton, Hampshire, Anna Chaplaincy is an ecumenical movement offering emotional and spiritual support for older men and women – and carers – irrespective of whether they have strong, little or no faith.