METHODIST Homes (MHA), Britain’s largest charity providing care for older people, has appointed Eleanor Puttock as its first digital chaplain. She will use new technology to support spiritual well-being.
MHA, which runs 159 retirement and care homes, is already putting many of its support services online, and sees her function as helping to facilitate and develop content for residents, their relatives, and staff, and bolster its existing chaplaincy services.
Ms Puttock describes her job as “a way to support pastoral and spiritual needs: whatever lifts their spirits, connections or memories. It could be a podcast, it could be music. People might need to have their morning prayer or hymn, or just want to hear a piece of music or see a picture of their loved ones. It could just be a poem or hear Vera Lynn sing. It’s not to get old people into technology, or to evangelise.
“I am 40 this September, and that does inspire and influence the way I work. I remember life before the modern digital technological boom, and can bridge the generational divides. I am able to use a dial-up phone, but can stream things on my computer and communicate via snail mail, email, and social media. I think that now makes me a geriatric millennial.”
The post is part-time, and Ms Puttock is currently completing her training as a hospital chaplain. She has previously worked with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University, and in the diocese of Ely, where she supported the central team and helped parishes develop their digital presence.
She plans to spend much of her first six months meeting care-home managers and making “digital champions” out of the 12 area chaplains who supervise the 136 chaplains working in the homes. “I am quite passionate about training in digital body language — how we interact with each other and spirituality on line.
“During Covid, we all moved on to Zoom, and we assumed everybody knew how to interact with each other. It’s important to learn how different signals can be used in different communities. Covid has presented an opportunity for people to understand that it can be a complementary part of delivering things. I just want to give the homes the skill-sets of how to use those tablets that are in the home to let people engage with each other.”