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General Synod: ‘Anna’ is a work of the Spirit

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell

MINISTRY to the residents of care homes, and, in particular, those with dementia, was the subject of a debate on Tuesday morning.

Introducing the motion from Rochester diocesan synod, Angela Scott (Rochester) said that the form of ministry known as “Anna Chaplaincy” was spreading pastoral care for elderly people with dementia countrywide. Britain had a growing retired population and increasing life expectancy; so there were more and more people with dementia. Rochester diocese now had 21 Anna Chaplains, seven dementia hubs, and 34 Anna Friends, and her parish church in Bromley was the first to employ a part-time chaplain.

Mrs Scott recounted her own family history of dementia, which had affected her grandmother, mother, and aunt. Each of these women had struggled with fear as dementia slowly overtook their lives, she said. The only thing that gave her aunt peace of mind from this fearfulness was a simple prayer.

A 2014 report by Dementia UK estimated that it cost the country £26.3 billion a year, and two-thirds of this cost was paid for by the people living with dementia. Carers were also sidelined and ignored, she said. Anna Chaplaincy began in 2009, and had spread, with the backing of the Bible Reading Fellowship.

The Prime Minister’s “Challenge on Dementia 2020” set out 50 specific commitments to making England the “world leader in dementia care, research, and awareness”. The last clause of the motion asked the Government to report on the progress of this challenge. She then showed a short video featuring the work of a Rochester parish’s dementia café.

Dr Nick Land (York) said that dementia raised deep theological questions about what it meant to be human; and so many chose to walk away rather than lean into this painful issue. But, in dementia, people were isolated and needed others even more than usual, he said. “Compassion as shown by Anna Chaplaincy is about moving towards pain, not fleeing from it.”

Dementia was where the “rubber hits the road” of the Setting God’s People Free debate: it affected all people in the Church in different ways. When patiently supporting a confused parent who had phoned for the 30th time that day, you were serving Christ, Dr Land said. When helping a tired family carer to have a morning off, you were serving the body of Christ.

The Revd Andrew Micklefield (Winchester) noted that his parish was the birthplace of Anna Chaplaincy a decade ago, when Anglicans and Methodists had come together there to create something for the elderly in the community. Rochester had focused on dementia, but older people had other “issues and joys”. “I believe God’s Holy Spirit has got hold of this thing called Anna Chaplaincy, and who are we to stand in its way?”

Susan Howdle (Methodist Church) spoke of the 75-year history of Methodist Homes for the Aged, which had a special focus on community schemes for dementia, and oversaw 200 chaplains. Joint ecumenical working must not just be done through faith and order bodies, but in local collaboration, to show that “older people are not the Church of yesterday but today.”

Her mother had continued to be a minister’s wife to the end of her days, leading worship and speaking of the gospel in a care home with those who needed to be continually reminded of God’s love. They witnessed to a God who “remembers our sin no more”.

In a maiden speech, Marian Nicholson (Canterbury) said that her journey with dementia was with her father, Arthur. When he had moved to Canterbury to be with her, there had been clear signs of osteoporosis and dementia setting in. Moving to a home was distressing, as no one knew him as a “godly, amazing man”. Conversation was becoming increasingly hard. It was becoming lonelier for him, both at church and at home, she said.

Peter Hine (Carlisle) said that it was pleasing that the motion called for raising the profile of people with dementia. There were many alliances between Churches and organisations throughout the country, aiming to meet the Prime Minister’s “Challenge on Dementia 2020” programme. He said that all parts of his town were partners in the scheme to help those with dementia. “We have to work ecumenically,” Mr Hine argued. Primary-schoolchildren were being brought into the plan, so that awareness can be raised throughout the area.

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, said that the countryside could be a lonely place, as well as beautiful. “Loneliness gnaws at the soul,” he said. Bishop Atwell explained that Devon was the county with the second oldest population in the country, and this was expected only to increase. Exeter diocese has been preparing for this by bringing together different agencies, and thinking about how it could engage with this growing constituency. “As Christians, I think we need to challenge the dominant national narrative that glamorises the young and beautiful, and ignores the old.” He asked the Synod to support the motion.

Izzy McDonald-Booth (Newcastle) said that the motion was long overdue. She said that a care home was a very lonely place to be, and anyone who regularly visited homes would see many people sitting alone; a fear of care homes translated into people not visiting them. She said that one of the biggest shifts in the care of older people was spending more time with them rather than rushing in and out to deliver a communion. She reiterated the importance of recruiting the right people for this training; it needs to be more robust, and there needed to be more joined-up thinking at parish level.

Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together) said that the topic of Anna Chaplaincy was very interesting. Much of this information was good for people who were hearing, but she said that she would give some examples of practice for those that were deaf. Ms Taplin said she had been going into a care home to help a deaf man. The decline of provisions for those who were deaf, as well as those with dementia, had been hard, she said. Anna Chaplaincy had the opportunity for a God-given sense of Good News for people. She said that this needed to be related to the deaf community, and others who had dementia in addition to other disabilities.

The Revd Tim Goode (Southwark) spoke of a woman in his parish with dementia. She never looked distressed, but also never looked engaged, until the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. “The intensity of her gaze becomes piercing, and she mouths in time with me the Lord’s Prayer.” She was remembering a deep sense of identity, Mr Goode said. “Barbara has taught me to listen, to watch, to learn.”

The motion was carried overwhelmingly. It read:


That this Synod:
(a) recognise and commend the important work of “Anna Chaplaincy” and “The Gift of Years”’;
(b) request all dioceses to raise the profile of work with those diagnosed with dementia and their carers; and
(c) call on Her Majesty’s Government to report on progress on the achievement of the Prime Minister’s “Challenge on Dementia 2020”, and on what steps are being taken to join up health and social care to ensure the seamless transition from one to the other for people with dementia.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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