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Interview: Pippa Cramer, pastoral care and seniors minister

01 April 2022

‘Building happy, motivated, and appreciated teams is central to all church work’

Before the pandemic, my day-to-day work involved lots of things, including co-ordinating the pastoral care at Holy Trinity, Claygate, and running and leading Connections, our weekly group in church for seniors, which would attract well over 100 guests.

A culture of love and care has developed around this:
many of the new faces at church come from Connections. My prayer has always been that Connections is like a bridge into church.

Prayer surrounds my work.
This has always been key.

Loving and caring for our older friends is at the heart of what we do.
Archbishop Justin Welby visited us in 2017. He loved the simplicity of our work, and he described Connections as “extraordinary” for its pastoral reach and its evangelistic impact among seniors. He said: “It is a model which I hope and pray will be replicated in every parish across the country.”

At the beginning of the pandemic,
we set up a huge “cascade of care”, which involved all my volunteers’ ringing and supporting over 160 local older people who found themselves having to shield at home. Thousands of phone calls and doorstep visits were made, and hundreds of goody-bags, newsletters, and cards were delivered. So many gatherings happened in little groups in gardens, in side streets, in parks — taking church and God’s love to the people.

I have always wanted to bring our older friends on in their faith.
Initially, I struggled to find an evangelistic series that connected well with seniors; in my experience, many are hesitant to attend courses. And, anyway, many people have the head knowledge about God; so it’s more about igniting what may be dormant — showing that God really does love us, even if we’re alone, widowed, with no family, or our family is miles away: God carrying his lambs if they’re needing to be carried.

After much prayer,
we came up with the idea of using well-loved hymns to reach out to seniors and build their faith. This generation have grown up with these wonderful hymns; they are accessible and enjoyed. We now have written short talks on 18 well-loved hymns, arranged in three series, and these have been extraordinarily popular, with many of our older friends committing their lives to the Lord.

We have had so many requests for “Hymns we Love” to be written up and published,
and we hope to have this available soon for churches to use nationally. My big dream/prayer is of giving hundreds of thousands of older people all over the country the opportunity to discover how much God loves them through “Hymns we Love”.

The Daily Hope free phone line
was set up to reach the hundreds of thousands of older people who found themselves isolated in March 2020. It was a collaboration with the Church of England and the charity Faith in Later Life. Callers receive a welcome message from Archbishop Welby, and can then choose from a menu of different options: “Hymns We Love” from Connections in Claygate, hymns on loop, Church of England weekly church services, morning and evening prayers, Chair Exercises on the Phone, Sleep Well with Daily Hope, other reflections for certain times of the year — something for everyone, at any time of the day or night.

Despite a loosening of restrictions,
many are housebound, or remain fearful and unconfident about leaving their homes. With well over 600,000 calls received, elderly people across the nation have come closer to God through the phone line.

I first heard about Faith in Later Life after meeting the then chief executive Alan Hare, in 2016.
I was asked to speak about Connections at the Faith in Later Life launch at the House of Commons in October 2017. It has been such a joy to discover this amazing charity, which exists to inspire and equip Christians to reach, serve, and empower older people in every community through the local church. Being part of their “church champion” network, and taking part in their online training and webinars, has been such a privilege. It is just so important that we raise the profile of this precious, sadly often forgotten and overlooked generation.

I worked for many years as an occupational therapist [OT] in neurorehabilitation and with older people.
I loved working in the NHS, and I look back and realise how God was preparing me for what I’m doing now. I truly believe that building happy, motivated, and appreciated teams is central to all church work, and I learnt a lot about this as an OT. My teams have always been so important to me: I’m always keen to encourage, thank, and appreciate them — publicly, too, such as here. They are all truly fantastic!

I was overwhelmed to receive the Alphege Award for Evangelism and Witness from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2021,
and an MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List. If these awards can raise the profile of the needs of older people, fight against ageism, and help reduce loneliness and isolation then this feels very exciting to me.

I grew up in a Christian family with my parents and brother.
I remember “becoming a Christian” when I was eight years old, but it was through attending an Alpha course at HTB when I was about 22 years old that I feel I really discovered God for myself. I met my wonderful husband, Steve, at church, and we have two amazing children, Bel and Toby, aged 21 and 17. I adore all animals — we have a menagerie of dogs, cats, and guinea pigs at home.

I am upset when people disregard older people and don’t consider how they might be feeling.
I love people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. But I don’t like it when older people are made to feel unimportant or less valuable, sometimes even in church. Seniors ministry often is not seen as that important. I wonder if it is viewed as less “glamorous”. This saddens me. I believe all people, of all ages, are precious and valuable in God’s eyes, and should be treated and viewed as such.

I love worship music.
I spend a lot of my time listening to it, and worshipping our amazing God through music and hymns.

My biggest desire and prayer is for us, as a Church, to reflect God’s love and care to those around us,
to be his hands and feet. I truly believe that love and care are infectious, and I am very certain that loving people helps bring them on in their journey to him.

If I was locked in a place of worship for a few hours,
and could have a companion other than Jesus, I would choose the next best thing, as close as I can get to him: the fictional character of Aslan. To rub shoulders with him would be just extraordinary. I love the way C. S. Lewis describes him in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “Is he — quite safe?” Susan asks. “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” Mr Beaver says, “who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Pippa Cramer was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Holy Trinity, Claygate Seniors programme: htclaygate.org/activities/seniors


Daily Hope free phone line: 0800 804 8044

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