If training and learning are on your to do list for 2024, you’ve come to the right place. Across BRF Ministries we provide an extensive range of online and in-person courses, print and digital resources, one-off events and warm, supportive learning communities. This month we’re highlighting one particular example: the highly regarded Spiritual Care Series, designed to equip people with the skills and confidence to offer effective spiritual care to older people. For a limited time only we’re offering a substantial discount on the course. You can find details below, but first, here’s an account of one facilitator’s first-hand experience of the Spiritual Care Series.
7 January 2024
‘Wonderful and challenging’
When Maggie Dodd was appointed two-and-a-half years ago, she was the first Anna Chaplain in St Albans. It’s a full-time paid role, funded mainly by the Methodist Church but also supported by St Peter’s, a local Anglican Church. In October 2023 two further Anna Chaplains were commissioned, with Maggie becoming the lead of an expanding network in the city.
This was always the plan, as Maggie explains: ‘The idea behind the grant for my role was, from a standing start, to grow the network. What I’m trying to do is build a number of volunteer Anna Chaplains from different parishes and churches and then we’ll work together as a team on some projects, but they’ll also work individually with their parishes and local communities.’
‘A good, meaty course’
Last summer, Maggie decided that on top of an already demanding workload, she would facilitate an in-person Spiritual Care Series course for a group of seven people. They all travelled to a Methodist Homes (MHA) care complex in Hitchin, where the course was held in a common room. ‘We met together over the summer because we couldn’t easily gather in the winter with all the travelling,’ says Maggie. ‘Even so, trying to find a way to do it was quite a challenge and we ran it over three months, rather than eight weeks.’
So why was it a challenge worth taking on? Maggie decided to do it ‘because it looked like a good, meaty course, and I thought it might be suitable to recommend to other people I wanted to get involved in Anna Chaplaincy.’
‘I thought it might be a suitable course to recommend to other people I wanted to get involved in Anna Chaplaincy.’
Space and security to share
She had three or four local contacts who were interested: ‘We had one MHA chaplain who had a lot of experience in care settings. We had a new chaplain, who was regularly working in a care home. We had a Methodist deacon who had also been an MHA chaplain. Their different ministries meant they had a lot of experience between them. Then we also had the people I brought along from St Albans. One participant had looked after her mum for a number of years and had worked for AgeUK. Another participant was an AgeUK visitor/befriender and there was also a gentleman who was going to become an Anna Chaplain. He had retired from a career in nursing. So there was a lot of personal experience, which was incredibly valuable. The sessions offered the space and security to share and we had amazingly deep conversations about people’s experiences and the people they cared for.
‘Some of the course material included things that some of us already knew, but it was still very thought-provoking and some of the examples helped us to verbalise thoughts and feelings that we might have been thinking about but hadn’t expressed.’
Maggie didn’t always find her role as facilitator easy, though on the whole the resources, both print and online, were ‘user-friendly’ at a practical level. But it was the content which impressed her most.
Powerful animations, moving examples
‘The content was wonderful. It was a very good vehicle for discussion. The videos and the animations are really excellent: very thought-provoking. For me, the animations were one of the most powerful things in the whole course: those particular examples were really moving. The discussions in the videos were good too and that obviously then encouraged us to discuss things in the group. Having John Swinton so involved in the videos gave the course real weight, and also a really strong connection back to the UK context.
‘There were two sessions in particular which were very interesting and affected the group deeply: the session on dementia and the session on grief. We could easily have spent two sessions on each of those topics because there was so much to discuss and so much to share, particularly on dementia.’
Another session which made a big impact on Maggie and the group was the one on reflective listening. Even though all the group already used reflective listening to some extent in their ministry, that session was still exceptionally helpful.
‘The content was wonderful. It was a very good vehicle for discussion. The videos and the animations are really excellent: very thought-provoking.’
‘I still remember it, weeks after the session’
‘The thing I remember most, and was the most useful, was the reflective listening and spiritual listening. For the majority of Anna Chaplains, most of what they do is listen and be there for the people we meet. That material was so good, I still remember it very clearly, a number of weeks after we shared that session. It was so valuable because it was prescriptive as well: this is what you’re supposed to do. This is how you do it. This is what a good listener does.’
And it’s material Maggie can imagine sharing in various different ways: ‘I have the possibility coming up of organising some supermarket chaplaincy with several volunteers. I probably wouldn’t suggest they do the entire course because not all of it would be relevant, but I would pull out that reflective listening session and maybe lead a morning workshop on it with them. I could spend a couple of hours talking about reflective listening, spiritual listening and trying to listen beyond just chatting, exploring what “a good listener” is – that would work very well in that setting.’
And were there any negatives? ‘No one liked role play!’ says Maggie. ‘Maybe it was just the personalities in our group, but I’m afraid, because we only had two hours, we started at 7.30 and really had to leave at 9.30 for everyone to get home, so we dropped a lot of the role play because the conversations we had as a group were far more valuable.’
Maggie is aware that the length and depth of the course can seem daunting. ‘It is very worthwhile,’ she says, ‘but it’s a huge commitment and probably for a lot of people, just too much. I would recommend it to people a bit like me, or who are pastoral leads. It’s a really good course, but it is basically a professional level training. Having said that, I can also see other uses for some of the components: you could break them into smaller bitesize sessions which would be more accessible, for care home staff, for example, or people who are going to be Anna Friends. A coffee morning with some of the material on reflective listening could be really valuable and affordable.’
So many valuable ‘take homes’
‘Having said all that, the course is excellent value. I was lucky with the people I was with, because we did share a lot and I think the material facilitated that. We really did share deeply; in fact we’re going out for lunch together soon, probably because we feel a bit bereft now the course is over. It really drew us together.
‘I really enjoyed it, and there are so many really valuable take homes: learning, insights, resources and a real sense of bonding with the group.’
‘It was so valuable because it was prescriptive as well: this is what you’re supposed to do. This is what a good listener does.’