‘The longer they live, the brighter they shine’

Helping churches 'wake up' to older people's ministry

Onwards and upwards

'The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine'
The Message

Sally Bates, a new member of BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy network, has taken this encouraging translation of Proverbs 4:18 as the 'motto' for her work as associate pastor with particular responsibility for over-65s, at Frinton Free Church in Essex. It’s a vision for faith in later life that inspires many following the Anna Chaplaincy model to offer spiritual care to those in their later years (and to carers).

BRF’s ministry to older people is going from strength to strength - from just one Anna Chaplain in a single Hampshire town in 2010, there are today 93 in these community-based roles supporting older people across the country (some calling themselves Anna Chaplains; others going by a different name). Now constant enquiries are keeping BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy team busy as they clock up the miles across Britain to visit interested churches. Debbie Thrower, BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy Pioneer, explains...

About Anna Chaplaincy

'More and more churches are waking up to the ageing demographic, and asking for advice on how to meet their growing responsibility to care for those in their later years.
Debbie Thrower, BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy Pioneer

'Churches also recognise that those who have been lifelong disciples have much to teach younger generations. Once a church (of whatever denomination) lets us know they’re interested, we arrange to visit - ideally to hold a public meeting so the widest spectrum of people in the community can hear more and be inspired. We give advice on how to recruit the right person - they could be male or female, lay or ordained. Every Anna Chaplain is accountable to a church which line-manages and prays for them; the chaplain is sent out on behalf of a praying community, in whose name the work is done.'

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'The UK’s population is ageing fast,' says Debbie. The figures speak for themselves:

  • The number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to more than double in the next 20 years
  • A third of babies born in 2012 are expected to live to 100
  • The UK has 850,000 people living with dementia, rising to 2 million by 2050

Source: Later Life in the United Kingdom 2019

For many older people, old age is the low point in their long lives. BRF's Anna Chaplaincy asks, what can churches do to make Proverbs 4:18 a reality for more people?

'Anna Chaplaincy is a way for churches to respond to this unprecedented change and bring opportunities to serve as well as bring comfort and succour to the growing numbers of men and women who are finding life a challenge as they grow older.'

Debbie Thrower

Gathering momentum

October 2019 saw the fifth annual Anna Chaplaincy Network Gathering for those exploring the ministry as a personal vocation or looking to develop it in their own locality. Delegates had come from all corners of the UK – the majority new to the network. It was the biggest Anna Chaplaincy Gathering, and, according to many who attended it, 'the best ever': a time for sharing, envisioning and upskilling, with talks and workshops around working ecumenically, spiritual needs in later life, the demography of old age, and reflecting theologically on solitude and being alone.

Jill Phipps, BRF’s Messy Vintage lead, guided everyone through the practicalities of leading this style of worship which has developed out of BRF’s Messy Church - a creative, welcoming and inclusive form of church suitable for all ages. Fast becoming popular, Messy Vintage is particularly designed for those in their later years, with a higher ratio of volunteers to older participants.

Taking the theme of ‘Loneliness’ was this year’s keynote speaker Jeremy Sharpe, director of Linking Lives UK, a befriending charity, which together with Anna Chaplaincy is part of the coalition Christians Together Against Loneliness.

Anna Chaplaincy network gathering
'I felt so encouraged and envisioned by it and so privileged to be part of something so cutting edge, so creative, imaginative and so full of the Spirit'
Lindsay Pelloquin, lead chaplain, The Gift of Years ecumenical ministry to older people, Rugby

There are now Anna Chaplains across the south of England, the Midlands and the north-east of England. At BRF we look forward to the day when every small to medium-sized community has an Anna Chaplain.

Could you help BRF realise this vision?

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Contact Anna Chaplaincy

'We have a vision to see Anna Chaplains in villages, towns and cities everywhere, so they become as commonplace as youth workers are when it comes to working with children, teenagers and young families.'

Debbie Thrower