On reading Alison Davey’s recent Jubilee+ post, 'Are we an ageist society?' I felt a deep sense of affinity, particularly in light of continued correspondence with my MP about the challenges that my father in law has faced in having access to a chaplain in his well-regarded care home.
I was encouraged also to read the May 2021 impact report ('Where we are a decade on' by Julia Burton-Jones and Jenny Kartupelis on behalf of Anna Chaplaincy). This organisation, now part of the Bible Reading Fellowship, aims to see Anna Chaplains in every small-to medium-sized community in the UK, each contributing to the spiritual care of men and women in later life by being skilled listeners and hope-bearers.
Founded in 2010, Anna Chaplaincy supports older people spiritually and in practical ways and seeks to enable them to continue contributing to society through their experience, skills and wisdom. The movement offers pastoral care to older people and carers of all faiths and none, in care, private and community settings in many parts of the UK. In just over ten years Anna Chaplaincy has grown to include 160 chaplains, mainly laywomen and men from a variety of Christian denominations, who give their time voluntarily to the work of chaplaincy.
Within the NHS hospital sector chaplaincy is frequently quite well established; in residential care and nursing homes this is not always the case. My recent conversations with the policy leadership team of a large national care home provider revealed that chaplaincy was little understood and not mentioned in internal policy guidance issued to care home managers. Whilst, I was told, it was understood that Roman Catholics might appreciate having access to Mass the wider provision of faith-related pastoral care was not mentioned. My experience with my father in law underscored for me the fact that spiritual life is very important as we age: while physical and mental capacity may gradually be lost, the potential for spiritual growth remains and is a vital factor in resilience, contentment and living a full life. An emphasis on the physical health and safety of care and nursing home residents is now entirely understandable – given the impact of the pandemic within this sector in 2020 – but spirituality and faith in later life are hugely significant and must not be omitted in policy or practice. My father in law has dementia and I have found the work of Dr Tricia Williams really helpful. Tricia has recently completed her PhD research at the University of Aberdeen in the area of faith and dementia. Here she reflects on the experience of faith for Christians who live with this illness. Her work suggests that dementia can bring fresh perspectives for understanding who we are, the nature of faith, and what it means to be ‘church’.
Sadly, government guidance to the care and nursing home sector during the COVID pandemic has not encouraged care managers to preserve or extend resident’s access to chaplaincy services. Yet, as the Anna Chaplaincy research report says: “without love, few people can thrive, even when their physical needs are met”.
In this context, Anna Chaplains see their role as affirming and encouraging, helping older people find or remember their gifts, reconnect with their community and above all to feel valued and loved by God. Theirs is a ministry of presence and listening, paying attention to a person’s story, giving time to people.
Older people find or are referred to Anna Chaplaincy in many ways, and this is reflected in the great diversity of people with whom Anna Chaplains work. They may be living in care or nursing homes, or sheltered housing, where perceptive staff have noticed an issue with loneliness, distress or grief; they may be members of a church in which the Anna Chaplain has met them and offered pastoral support; they may be referred by a GP or other professional. A critical aspect of Anna Chaplaincy is therefore to recognise the great variety of older people and the requirement to adapt responses to suit individuals.
Each Anna Chaplain must be affiliated with a church or group of churches. However, they have a clear remit that their work is pastoral and not about proselytization. They have the knowledge, tools and freedom to nurture spirituality, whether this is by reconnecting people back into a church community or providing the space and encouragement to reflect on life and appreciate more fully its value. They can help older people find perspective, and advocate for them to be given the greatest possible autonomy that their situation allows.
Current government guidance places considerable responsibility upon care home managers to make the risk assessments needed and provide for the spiritual needs of their residents. In response to a parliamentary question tabled by Stephen Timms MP in November 2020, the Minister of State for Health and Social Care stated that: “Care home managers are best placed to decide how their care home can deliver the visiting outlined in the guidance in a way that meets the needs of their residents. There is nothing to stop chaplains, ministers of religion or others making visits where residents would like to see them and where the care home manager is content this is in line with the home’s visiting policy based on a dynamic risk assessment.
All visitors must follow infection control measures to keep residents and staff safe. To this end, personal protective equipment is being provided for free until the end of June and care homes have been provided with sufficient LFD tests to ensure that visitors can take a test each time they visit.”
The relationship that local churches build with care and nursing home managers is clearly key to a thriving relationship and the spiritual well being of residents. Explore this online resource for further information and practical help:
Contact Anna Chaplaincy for further advice through their website.
John Evans was Global Talent Leader for World Vision International and is now a Director of Jubilee Plus. He is a member at Jubilee Community Church, East Grinstead.