I think I grew up with a strong sense of God. I
went to the Methodist boarding school Edgehill College, in
Bideford, which provided me with a firm Christian foundation. I
lapsed a bit in my 20s, but regained a stronger faith as we became
parents, and later when I was accompanying my own parents through
the difficulties of their own old age.
I became a licensed lay minister while I was working
full-time in television, and developed the Anna Chaplaincy
in Alton. We think it's such a good model that could be used
elsewhere. Just as Lucy Moore developed Messy Church with the help
of the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF). I started working for the
BRF in January 2014 to spearhead an initiative for older people
called the Gift of Years, resourcing the spiritual journey of older
The Anna Chaplaincy is an ecumenical chaplaincy to older
people. It's like planting a flag in the middle of the
market town of Alton, or wherever, saying that older people matter.
It's named after the faithful widow Anna in Luke's Gospel, and it's
a way of ministering to frail older people, particularly, but not
exclusively, in residential and sheltered homes.
We want to help churches, individuals, and care
homes make the most of the fact we're living longer, and capitalise
on the opportunities for spiritual growth in later life.
For several days a month I'm working on the
micro-level, doing pastoral work with individuals and
families; the rest of the time, I'm preparing course materials, and
I'm trying to give people resources,
commissioning writers, asking what Bible notes we need to reach the
really frail older person, asking: how can I inspire others who
have a heart for older people?
It's great to encourage young people, but don't
neglect the people you've actually got on your doorstep. And think
about a slightly fairer sharing of resources.
It was through seeing all those things through my
parents' eyes that I recognised what enormous challenges
there are. I also saw what a spiritually fertile time it can be: a
mellowing emergence of a nobility of spirit. They grew spiritually
through the vicissitudes.
Society's emphasis on being youthful,
beautiful, useful, and productive makes it incredibly difficult to
enter the more passive stages of our lives. People can feel
sidelined, surplus to requirements. There used to be more of a
sense that to reach a grand old age was a great achievement, and
you were a repository of wisdom in society.
I work with people with dementia. We mustn't be
too hasty to say they lose their spiritual life. You can reach
people even in the most advanced stages of dementia by using things
that engage the senses, the right music, traditional prayers. The
Lord's Prayer often acts as a key that unlocks memories. If you
take this worship in a quiet, tranquil way, you can do a lot of
work that's quite surprising.
We're so steeped in our value of cognitive
ability that it's very natural to feel inadequate in a
room full of people who have lost that, but if you are 100 per cent
present in the moment, you find new ways of connecting.
John Swinton's book Dementia: Living in the memories
of God has influenced me profoundly. He talks about
holding such people, re-membering them: literally putting them
together again, on their behalf.
No, I don't miss my old way of life, actually,
because for me it was always about story, and now I have stories
galore when I'm listening to older people tell me about their
lives. Listening and helping people reflect on their unique life
experiences helps them discover who they truly are, deep down. So I
hope you can see there is continuity between what I once did for a
living, and what I'm engaged in now.
I loved the immediacy of radio, and the close
connection with the audience; so they were very happy and varied
days, having my own show on Radio 2 in the afternoons, for example,
or presenting one- off series and more long-running shows like
You and Yours and Sunday. I really enjoyed the
buzz of TV news, and regional broadcasting had lots of light and
shade in it, celebrating the good news of the South of England, as
well as providing a record of the sad, and more exceptional
tragedies and news events.
The hardest thing any journalist has to do is visiting
bereaved families, often because of particularly harrowing
events. It is good now when spending time with someone who is
grieving or contemplating their own mortality, not to have to rush,
taking the opportunity to really listen attentively, and share, and
absorb, some of their pain.
My husband and I have two children: a daughter,
Bryony, and a son, Sam. They're both in their twenties. We live a
few miles from Winchester. Pete is a conservationist; so we love
living a bit off the beaten track. I was born in Kenya, but spent
part of my childhood in east Devon; so I suppose, unconsciously, we
have recreated a home setting that's also as remote as it is
feasible to be when you are both busy working and travelling. We
have a dog, a lurcher called Rosie, who needs a lot of exercise,
and two seal-point Siamese cats. I'm also a water baby: I love
As a lay canon on Chapter, Winchester
Cathedral's governing body, I bring communications expertise, I
guess, and my knowledge of the diocese as a lay minister, and of
the wider region as a broadcaster who's lived and worked there for
more than 30 years. It's a very exciting time for Winchester
Cathedral: a £20.5-million development scheme, and exhibition space
for the renowned Winchester Bible.
I'm a keen reader, so always have a book on the
go, and I enjoy cooking and seeing friends.
We often go to Italy, where one of my sisters currently
lives, or to north Cornwall; and we enjoy ambling through
Europe with no particular agenda, but we don't go often enough.
Anywhere with (preferably warm) blue water is very
I'm content to take things as they come these
days. I used to be quite calculating about what career
step to take next, but now realise it is more about receiving than
A drama on TV really made me angry. It was
based on the true stories of the way girls are groomed for sex by
older men. It seems to have been followed by wave after wave of
news accounts of girls, especially vulnerable when they are in
care, who are exploited by gangs. The recent scandals have sickened
I'm happiest on a beach, in the sun, and with
no deadlines, and not having to do anything in particular. Also
when I am home, and the fridge is well-stocked, and I'm relaxing
among the people who know me best.
Lots of good soul-friends have influenced me,
who seem to have appeared at just the right moments. Also my
parents, of course. My father always used to say: "Never put your
wishbone where your backbone ought to be." And my mother's epitaph
should have been: "Never mean with the butter."
If I were ever to be on Desert Island
Discs, I'd see if I could get away with the complete
works of Michael Mayne as my chosen book. I met him once when he
was Dean, and I was presenting Songs of Praise from
Westminster Abbey. He writes like a good friend who takes you by
the hand into a library, and says: "Now, I know just what you'll
I pray that everything will turn out for the best for
those I love, for myself, and for all of us planted for a
season in this world that can be, by turns, surreal, sorrowful, but
also superbly surprising.
I actually did get locked in a church - with
Russ Parker, of the Acorn Healing Trust, the other day. We were in
what's called The Pod in St Lawrence's, in Alton, and at dusk
someone locked up not realising we were still there. He's a very
funny man, with a fund of stories, and a strong sense of the
ridiculous, so we laughed a lot - and fortunately we didn't need to
phone for help, as I did, eventually, find a key on my keyring that
I'd never used before, which unlocked an obscure outside door.
Debbie Thrower was talking to Terence Handley