'Never underestimate older people'

Upskilling the church and celebrating older people, through The Gift of Years and Anna Chaplaincy

A dream realised

BRF’s programmes have tended to start with one person, one church or one small group of people dreaming of how things could be better. The Gift of Years is no exception. Less than a decade ago, local churches in a small Hampshire market town came together with a shared goal of improving support for older people. They recruited Debbie Thrower, a former broadcaster, whose vision and drive for spiritually supporting people in later life soon began making a real difference in the town. The model she developed, Anna Chaplaincy to Older People rapidly caught the attention of all denominations.

Now operating as BRF’s The Gift of Years programme (with a remit to grow the Anna Chaplaincy model nationally), Debbie and her colleague Alex Burn are developing an increasing understanding of the spiritual needs of older people. Together with other members of The Gift of Years network, they’re helping to upskill churches and groups around the UK – and encouraging countless older people in their walk with God. 

middle aged lady in happy conversation with elderly man and woman

Sharing skills

Earlier this year, Debbie realised a long-held ambition: to create a definitive reference and manual sharing best practice for those providing Anna Chaplaincy and others doing similar work. The Anna Chaplaincy Handbook is now available (in digital or printed form) to network members and any church community with a serious interest in developing this ministry.

'This is a wise handbook and one which is to be treasured. It sees that the care of older people is part of the heart-purpose of God and that for churches to be involved in this form of ministry is to share in the healing love which Christ has for our hurting communities. I commend it to you most warmly, with gratitude for all that has already been achieved and in the hope that this form of ministry will continue to flourish and grow in the years ahead.'

The Rt Revd Dr Christopher Herbert, former Bishop of St Albans

Debbie Thrower with James Catford of Renovare and Bishop Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon

The team also frequently share their knowledge with other groups. For example, they have recently been involved in training Church of England ordinands (Oxfordshire Diocese) and Licenced Lay Ministers (Chichester Diocese); Debbie has also presented at the annual conference of Linking Lives UK (involved with The Gift of Years in the Christians Together Against Loneliness coalition).

Sharing experiences

Recently appointed Anna Chaplain The Revd Sophie Sutherland loves being part of a national, ecumenical network that ‘creates space for us to share our experiences’ in supporting people pastorally in later life, especially those who may be lonely or experiencing big changes such as bereavement or moving from the home they've been living in for decades. 

It's never too late!

Terry and Jean's confirmation service with Anna Chaplain Rachel Sturt and the Bishop of Basingstoke

At the heart of the Anna Chaplaincy model is the message that the best may be still to come. If society too easily dismisses the experiences of those in later life, Anna Chaplains (and others in the network who use a different name) encourage them to see the opportunities. Sometimes this means helping people deal with difficult things from the past. Sometimes it’s about taking a new step of faith. 

Two residents in the same care home in Alton, Hampshire, Jean and Terry (both 88 and readers of BRF’s Bible Reflections for Older People notes), recently took the plunge together: both were prepared for confirmation by Anna Chaplain The Revd Rachel Sturt. Surrounded by their family and friends, they were confirmed by the Bishop of Basingstoke, The Rt Revd David Williams, in a special service at the care home. 

‘Both Jean and Terry have been faithful servants of the Lord all their lives, and preparation has been most interesting. At times, I wondered which of us was learning the most. It is wonderful to see how their faith has grown. Never underestimate [older people] as a resource for prayer, wisdom and time. They have plenty!’

The Revd Rachel Sturt

A new way of 'doing church' for older people

You’ve heard of BRF’s Messy Church – a Christ-centred form of service based on creativity, workshop and hospitality, that is attracting hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, many of them new to church. Young and old enjoy the shorter, informal services and opportunity to chat over a craft activity or a meal. Now The Gift of Years is offering a Messy Vintage option, especially for older people. Twelve (dementia-friendly) session plans are now available; including six that Livability have included in their Make a meal of it resource for churches who want to tackle loneliness by creating meal-based community events.

Download a leaflet about Messy Vintage.


All from a tiny mustard seed

‘Never underestimate older people.’ Never underestimate what God can do when a tiny mustard seed of a dream is planted in faith, tended in prayer and watered by the generosity of BRF donors. As The Gift of Years shows, it may well become a tree that provides spiritual shelter and rest to many. 

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The work of The Gift of Years is entirely funded by donations and grants from individuals, churches and charitable trusts. Can you help us by giving a one-off or regular donation? Thank you. 

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