A milestone and a collapsed wall

A new phase for BRF’s ministry to older people – and how John found his calling

A new phase for Anna Chaplaincy

The population is changing. The number of people over the age of 85 will have doubled in 20 years.1 Of all the babies born now, a third will live to see their 100th birthday.2 Many of them will experience extreme loneliness.3 That’s why BRF encourages pastorally gifted people to consider becoming an Anna Chaplain, offering spiritual support to older people who are living in residential care or in sheltered accommodation or who are struggling to live independently.

So central are Anna Chaplains to BRF’s work with older people that, in July 2019, its programme The Gift of Years relaunches as Anna Chaplaincy for Older People. Anna Chaplaincy works with churches and regional denominational groupings to nurture a network of people with the specific skills, expertise and compassion to address the spiritual needs of those in later life. People like John, who here shares his journey to becoming an Anna Chaplain.

Visit the new Anna Chaplaincy website

Could you be an Anna Chaplain? Try our quick quiz

How could Anna Chaplaincy help you, your church, your diocese or regional grouping, or your local hospice?

‘Anna Chaplains are a gracious offering from their church to the local community’
Debbie Thrower, Pioneer, Anna Chaplaincy for Older People

How a collapsed wall helped John find his calling

John is a lay worship leader with special interest in older persons’ ministry, living in the north west of England. As well as distributing Holy Communion by extension to the sick and housebound in his local parish, John is ‘chaplain to our local nursing home, where I lead a weekly inclusive Communion service for the residents, staff and visitors'.

This is the story of how John became an Anna Chaplain.


'I always felt I had a purpose I had yet to find and was praying for guidance as to what that might be, when I was interrupted by a collapsed wall! I was a churchwarden, and the wall was to occupy a great deal of my time and efforts, involving architects, an archaeologist and numerous others, and many visits to the wall.

'While all this was taking place I continued to pray for some sign over my direction. I later realised it had been when I was doing the weekly shop in town that God had started sending me messengers. Stopping for coffee, I would find strangers coming and sharing their problems with me. This went on for a number of weeks until one day an elderly gentleman sat down beside me and showed me his "Please be patient with me – I have dementia" badge. I spent time talking to him, and some time later, when his worried-looking wife came looking for him, I offered to sit with him until she had finished her shopping. Relieved, she agreed. Twenty minutes later she returned and thanked me for all my help. This had a major impact on me and was one of the signposts God very clearly put before me.'

A hidden sign reveals God's answer

'The dreaded wall beckoned again, and on the way, for the first time I noticed an almost-hidden sign in the trees for a nursing home. The words "Dementia Care" seemed to leap off the board, vibrantly illuminated. I felt a sense of urgency – this was the answer to my question to God.

'I called the home and asked the manager if they would like support and contact with the church; they said they would be very grateful. I then spoke with our vicar, Ruth, over the way forward. We had a meeting together at the home and discussed the residents’ needs and what we could provide. Ruth and I sat down and designed a service book, and the following week my first visit took place.

'That was three years ago; I have been there ever since. In 2018, I was commissioned as an Anna Chaplain with special responsibility for the nursing home and the elderly members of the parish. I want to say thank you to my parish for the support. A sincere thank you to all the staff at the home who support my ministry; without their help it would not be possible. The largest thank you goes to the residents who generously share their thoughts with me.'

Read how Marion became an Anna Chaplain

‘I have found my calling, and there is a joy in serving and helping those in the winter years of life’

John, an Anna Chaplain

Could you be an Anna Chaplain?

  • Are you a good listener?
  • Do you enjoy the company of older people?
  • Can you offer several hours a week to draw alongside them?
  • Does the Bible speak to you in your everyday circumstances?
  • Have you thought about your own ageing?
  • Are your pastoral gifts recognised by the church to which you belong?
  • Do you think age is no barrier to remaining interested in others and wanting to serve them?
  • Would you like to be part of a network of people working with those in their later years sharing good practice?

If you answered ‘yes’ to most (if not all) of these questions, like more and more men and women, you may well have a calling to this work.

Find out more

June and Helen

Anna Chaplaincy is growing!

Anna Chaplaincy is led by Debbie Thrower, a former BBC broadcaster and Anglican licensed lay minister. She first developed the Anna Chaplaincy model of spiritual care to older people nine years ago, as an ecumenical initiative in Alton, Hampshire. The programme now:

  • connects and supports a growing national network of more than 80 church-based Anna Chaplains (and others in equivalent roles) who work with older people of strong, little or no faith in the community – including in care homes
  • produces and promotes resources around later life and dementia
  • develops and promotes best practice, including through a comprehensive Anna Chaplaincy Handbook
  • runs an annual gathering for the network: an opportunity to share knowledge and boost skills
  • offers presentations and training to wider groups on improving the spiritual care of older people, including the Cliff College course ‘Introduction to Ministry among Older People’
  • works with dioceses and other regional groupings to develop a joined-up approach
  • collaborates with Messy Church to provide Messy Vintage, a creative, inclusive way to offer church to older people
  • champions the needs of older people nationally through Christians Together Against Loneliness.

Could Anna Chaplaincy for Older People help you?

Anna Chaplaincy

For churches and individuals concerned about the spiritual care of those in later life...
BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy team can offer training to pastoral workers, help people to discern a vocation, or upskill those already focusing on this area.

For dioceses and other regional groupings...
 Anna Chaplaincy for Older people can support regional initiatives such as the following examples:

  • the Diocese of Rochester, where the focus is on supporting those with dementia
  • The Newcastle and Durham Dioceses, where several denominations have commissioned twelve Anna Chaplains across the region.  

For hospices...
Trained Anna Chaplains can offer much-needed additional help to people with life-limiting illnesses (such as dementia) who are living in the community but receiving hospice care.

Find out about our partnership with The Heart of Kent Hospice.

For more information visit the website or contact annachaplaincy [at] brf.org.uk

Visit the website  Contact Anna Chaplaincy

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1. Age UK

2. Ageing, Longevity and Demographic Change: a fact-pack of statistics from the international longevity centre, 2013

3. Age UK statistics say 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely and 200,000 have not had a conversation with friends or family for an entire month.