by Julia Burton-Jones
Learning and Development Lead for Anna Chaplaincy at BRF Ministries
Our second regional retreat for Anna Chaplaincy, called Martha’s Day Off, held at Sarum College in mid-September 2023 was a collaboration between me as the retreat leader, and Sarum College Principal, The Revd Canon Professor James Woodward, a theologian who specialises on ageing and dementia, who led reflections.
James’s first session drew from Isaiah chapter 43, focusing on verse 4; ‘because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.’ (NRSV). With a deeply affirming of the ministry of each participant, James emphasised that they were ‘precious’, ‘honoured’ and ‘loved’. The faithful ministry of Anna Chaplains among older people is unique and of infinite value. In honouring older people, we are allowing them to become all that they are intended to be.
We were profoundly encouraged by statements such as:
‘We who see your work have the privilege of learning from it and on behalf of all who have not seen fully, I want to honour you.’
‘The love you show to older adults is a movement of the heart to value all older people. Be determined to challenge ageism as a voice for older people who are so often marginalised.’
‘What you do is transformational.’
James’s second session introduced us to a frail elderly resident who had been part of the community at Lady Katherine Housing and Care. The story illustrated the sensitive ways in which we can come alongside an older person and allow them to express themselves and tell their story in ways that are powerfully enriching for them and for us.
Julia drew from Tony Horsfall’s newly published book, Working from a Place of Rest (BRF 2023) to encourage participants to examine their patterns of life and ministry, urging them to allow margins that leave ‘something in reserve for contingencies and unanticipated situations’. Through the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Horsfall shows that Jesus needed rest on his journey. We too need to know how to stop, to spend time enjoying leisure, and to see that the Sabbath is a central feature of the life God intends us to lead:
‘Rest is our starting point. We do not work into rest, toiling first and then receiving rest as a reward. We begin with the gift of a day of rest, and because we are rested, we can enter into our period of labour.’
Like Jesus, we need to be refreshed on the journey, drinking deeply from the well to renew our souls for our ministry so that we are working collaboratively with God, open to his prompting, drawing from his strength.
Choral evensong and morning prayer in Salisbury Cathedral were times of refreshment for the group, and fellowship over hearty meals provided by the College was a blessing. Sally from Bournemouth even came to the retreat on her birthday and was presented with cake to celebrate!
Prayer stations in several rooms in the College provided space to reflect and pray on Wednesday morning and the retreat ended with lunch after a short act of worship.
Highlights in participants’ feedback included:
‘Listening to James – so meaningful and gentle.’
‘Time to pray and contemplate.’
‘Nearness to Cathedral for worship.’
‘Wonderful venue, excellent facilities, delicious meals and very comfortable bedrooms.’
‘Meeting other Anna Chaplains.’
‘Reminder to take time out and rest.’
‘Remembering that I am precious, honoured and loved.’
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Anna Chaplaincy at BRF ministries has a wealth of resources to support spiritual care:
The Spiritual Care Series – About the Spiritual Care Series | Anna Chaplaincy | BRF
A blog by Debbie Thrower on ministry among older people – Blog | Anna Chaplaincy | BRF
Anna Chaplaincy Easy Guides for churches – Easy Guides | Anna Chaplaincy
At Sarum, Julia Burton-Jones is leading a day course on The Practice of Spiritual Care on 13 May 2024.