Anna Chaplaincy in Barrow-in-Furness is a thriving, ecumenical ministry with a number of local churches involved, two Anna Chaplains, Babs Lowes and Janis Preston, and a dedicated team of Anna Friends and volunteers. This summer they ran a very successful Holiday at Home across four churches, and they are also involved in two other important initiatives: Hospital to Home and Singing Therapy. Babs Lowes told us more.
1 October 2023
A listening ear
‘We’re involved in a six-week pilot for a Hospital to Home project at Furness General Hospital’, says Babs, ‘in which Anna Chaplains and Anna Friends work in partnership with hospital chaplains to offer spiritual support to people in transition between hospital and home.’
Following appropriate training, the pilot involves the Anna Chaplaincy team visiting people in hospital for six weeks and then in their homes for a further six weeks, so there is time to develop trusting, supportive relationships. ‘We’re not caregivers, we’re not occupational therapists and we’re not social workers,’ says Babs, ‘we’re there purely to offer spiritual care: to give people time to share their thoughts and deeper concerns, though of course we can signpost them to other sources of practical support if they need that.’
One of the most important things Babs and the team can offer is a listening ear. ‘We’ve found that people really want to talk, and we’ve also found that even people who have no faith will accept prayer, which is amazing. There’s one lady who was so touched by the Holy Spirit when we were praying for her that she was crying, and she was so much more at peace when we left.’
If successful, the Hospital to Home scheme will be rolled out in two other hospitals in the region and, according to Babs, the initial signs are that the ministry is having a huge impact. ‘I know God is going to work through this as he is working through our Singing Therapy ministry. Singing Therapy started before the hospital project, and it’s on a much bigger scale. It’s God’s work and it’s just amazing.’
‘We’ve found that people really want to talk, and we’ve also found that even people who have no faith will accept prayer, which is amazing.’
Sing an old song
Singing Therapy sessions take place at a facility called Abbey View, on the Furness General Hospital site, which is a halfway house between hospital and home or care home, and at the Parkview Gardens Care Home in Barrow, where the team also lead worship services and have been ‘welcomed with open arms by the manager and staff’.
At Abbey View, sessions take place on the first Friday of every month, for an hour during visiting time. There’s 20–25 minutes of singing, led by singer Phoebe, who is also training as an Anna Chaplain. ‘Phoebe chooses the songs, which are all golden oldies’, says Babs, ‘and the response is just amazing. There are so many stories I could tell you, and they’re all incredibly moving.’
The team includes people from churches all over Barrow and while Phoebe is setting up, they chat to people: patients, visitors and staff. It’s often family members who tell them what the session has meant to their loved ones.
‘I remember a man who was very, very quiet when he came in. I offered him a song sheet and an instrument, but he just said, “No, I don’t want to do this!” And I said, ‘Okay, that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. I’ll just leave them there.’ But once the singing started he gradually joined in. His granddaughter was visiting him and I noticed her videoing him singing along to one particular song. At the end of the session she came to me and thanked me so much. She’d driven a long way to see her grandad and she said this was the first time she’d heard him sing in many, many years.’
‘Then another time, there was a man in a hospital bed, close to the end of life, who was completely still and unresponsive. He had three young visitors, grandchildren. It was a beautiful day and they pushed his bed out into the garden where they could still hear the singing.
‘After the singing, we have a little break and I went out to speak to them. Amazingly, the man had a huge smile on his face and had been singing along. One of the youngsters told me he used to be a chef and I said, “Oh, I bet you’re just like that galloping gourmet.” Right away, sharp as a tack, he said, “Yes, but you don’t get any wine here!” Everyone started to laugh. The singing had woken him up completely.
‘Before she left, his granddaughter came to find me. “I just want to thank you so much for what you do,” she said, “We came thinking we were going to have a really morbid time and had no idea what we were going to say to him, but we’ve had such a blast, reminiscing with him.” And that’s the power of music! I could sit here for ages talking about different stories!’
‘The songs are all golden oldies, and the response is just amazing. There are so many stories I could tell you, and they’re all incredibly moving.’
A great privilege
So, from all these stories and experiences, how does Babs sum up the impact of Anna Chaplaincy’s ministry in Barrow?
‘People appreciate it so much: having someone listen to them, empathise with them, pray with them. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s such a great privilege to be an Anna Chaplain. It’s such an emotional ministry; it’s a joyful ministry and it’s such a blessing for everyone.’
‘Anna Chaplaincy is such an emotional ministry; it’s a joyful ministry and it’s such a blessing for everyone.’
Left: Babs Lowe (right) being commissioned as Anna Chaplain of Barrow by deacon Debbie Wilde.