'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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.