A gracious offering
Seeing Anna Chaplains at work among people in the older age group on BBC One’s Songs of Praise has provoked a flurry of extra inquiries from people keen to train as Anna Chaplains or initiate a visit from one.
Some are hearing about them for the first time and are keen to find out precisely why they are called ‘Anna’. The answers are:
- it is an easy name to spell!
- the name means ‘grace or gift’, apt because every chaplain is a gracious offering from the church to their local community
- and, most importantly, the specific character who inspired Anna Chaplaincy is the widow Anna we meet with Simeon in Luke’s gospel when Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the temple (Luke 2), the occasion celebrated at Candlemas (2 Feb).
‘Every chaplain is a gracious offering from the church to their local community.’
When we come across Anna – the woman with prophetic power, who, we are told, was 84 years old – she has discovered meaning and purpose through her life in the temple in Jerusalem. She is an archetypal chaplain, happy to chat to everyone and apply the wisdom of scripture to her present-day circumstances. Anna is resolutely looking forward in hope and expectation that God will act.
These are the qualities embodied by the present-day Annas (and Simeons) who have stepped forward to become today’s Anna Chaplains. They are all Christian, yet in the sensitive way in which they approach people, they are comfortable talking to anyone, whether or not they have a strong faith.
Giving and receiving
Not all Anna Chaplains who discover their own meaning and purpose in this role are post-retirement; some are much younger. But the fact that many Anna Chaplains are in their later years themselves means they know something of the challenges the isolated and bereaved are experiencing. They can identify with them and have the time and tact to draw alongside them and, where appropriate, share the hope they’ve found through their own faith-filled, even faith-fueled lives.
What new Anna Chaplains soon discover is they frequently receive more than they, themselves, give. My own memories of being bolstered by various people I was visiting as a chaplain bear testament to this.
‘Anna Chaplains frequently receive more than they, themselves, give.’
Take Arthur and Doris, for instance. Sadly no longer with us, they worshipped at several churches in Alton, Hampshire, over the years. Latterly they made themselves at home in the Anglican Parish of the Resurrection. Their friends came from many different denominations though, and from none.
They loved scripture and took it upon themselves whenever they heard of someone feeling a bit low to send them a card. It was always hand-made, bearing a cheering biblical verse, and they operated as a creative team – Arthur doing the calligraphy and Doris colouring-in the decorations.
I treasure one of their creations with the reassuring quotation from Isaiah 41:10, ‘Do not fear, I am with you, says the Lord.’
God expects …
Arthur and Doris’ example reminds us that part of the raison d’être of older people is to be encouragers of all who are younger than themselves. John Bell, of the Iona Community, once said in a radio talk:
‘God expects old dogs to do new tricks. God expects people whom the world would deem past it to initiate. The beginning of Jewish-Christian history involves an old man, Abraham, a nonagenarian, and his equally aged wife Sarah, from whom God maintains a nation will spring. He could have chosen a fertile upwardly mobile pair of newly-weds. We would have. But God is not us. God expects old people – to be the sowers of new seed; to be midwives of change; to be the ones who recognise and name the new directions which society has to take; to be the ones who applaud and encourage young potential.’
I have found this to be so true.
A surge of encouragement
Another person I visit regularly wrote to me the other day: this section of her letter offers profound inspiration to all Anna Chaplains, as well as to our team at BRF, to press on in developing Anna Chaplaincy far and wide:
‘You are channeling such a surge of encouragement and new self-discovery for older people to wake up to.’
Arthur and Doris were devoted readers of their Bible reading notes, and their personal copies of the Bible were extremely well-thumbed. Another favourite text of theirs was: ‘Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign Lord rescues us’ (Psalm 68:20).
While they have now been, as they would put it, ‘promoted to the Premier Division’, to all who came into contact with them and who were fortunate enough to receive their cards they were a Simeon and Anna for our times, without a doubt.
‘God expects old people – to be the sowers of new seed; to be midwives of change.’ – John Bell, Iona Community
At this point, it might be customary to say something like, ‘May God grant them eternal rest.’ But I rather think heaven will entail some very important jobs for them to do… just as they were his faithful servants throughout their time on earth.
A new prayer by Martyn Payne
God of the youngest and the oldest,
who rejoices in the cry of a child
and the song of a grandparent,
may each generation be blessed
by meeting with you in the other,
and by representing you to each other,
in the all-age kingdom of God.