Celebrating our Anna Chaplains: Sally Rees
In the second of our profiles celebrating the work of our Anna Chaplains on the International Day of Older Persons 2020, we hear from Sally Rees, Bishop's Officer for Older People's Ministry, and her experience in connecting with others and being church in recent times.
Retired nurse Sally Rees has been a key figure in the development of Anna Chaplaincy and is the Anna Chaplaincy Lead for Wales. She was priested on Saturday 26 September in a service delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, having been ordained Deacon six years ago.
'‘When I was ordained deacon in June 2014 it was on the understanding that my calling was to develop older people’s ministry across our ministry area. That includes ten churches, five care homes and two retirement housing complexes and what I’ve been doing the last few years is building up pastoral teams around each of the churches and each of the care homes and retirement facilities. That was my goal and I never expected to go any further because I was more than happy serving God locally as a deacon.
But God had other ideas. Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to develop Older People’s Ministry and Anna Chaplaincy further afield. In 2018 I was made Bishop’s Officer for Older People’s Ministry in the Swansea and Brecon Diocese. In 2019 I was asked to join the Anna Chaplaincy Working Group and this led to taking on the lead role in Wales. In this role I am also leading and teaching from the insights of my experiences of pastoral care to Older People. In January this year, I was prompted to explore if God was calling me to priesthood in this role. The rest as they say ‘is history’. It is truly amazing how God call us forward. He truly is the God of surprises.
I first met Debbie Thrower 8 or 9 years ago, long before I was ordained, and I’ve been in touch with her ever since. I’ve been part of the Anna Chaplaincy network from the very first gathering so I’ve been witness to Anna Chaplaincy growing.
Lockdown has been very difficult for Anna Chaplains, their teams, and the people for whom we care. For the first few weeks of lockdown in March, I was actually panic-stricken. I was just so anxious about the people I couldn’t get to. I and others still find it incredibly hard not to see people but we continue to minister as best we can within the restrictions.
I keep in touch with all the care home managers by phone when able. As pastoral teams we drop off resources at care homes regularly. These consist of an activity (e.g. card making, colouring, painting) and a Bible text or message to focus on. Everyone who I’m in touch with who isn’t computer literate has full details of the Daily Hope phone line so that they can access hymns, prayers and services at any time. Teams of pastoral visitors keep in touch with individuals regularly by phone and I write a little resource for them to use each day. This is simply a verse (we’re doing Psalm 139 at the moment), a thought, a prayer and a hymn for the day. I’ve got wonderful pastoral visitors with big hearts but not all of them are confident to pray with people on the phone, so if they have something to read to people, or start the conversation, that can be really helpful.
There are two groups of people that I’m still very concerned for, and these are the people I’m spending most of my time focussing on. I’m in touch with them by phone or text, sometimes several times a day. Firstly, those who live on their own, and secondly people who have loved ones in care homes who they haven’t been able to see for months during lockdown. There have been a few weeks during the summer when face to face visiting in the garden has been possible, but with the Covid situation worsening again Care Homes are once again closed to visitors.
There are particular challenges for those of us working in rural areas. My ministry area is vast, geographically, and we’re split across rivers and mountains. I am fortunate to now have teams in all the different areas living locally to ‘their’ Care Home: they’re the people who are walking past houses and care homes and talking to people through windows at the moment.
As far as church is concerned, I normally would worship and lead services for two congregations: an 8.00 o’clock congregation and a 6.00 o’clock congregation, so a Morning Prayer and an Evening Prayer. Both of those congregations are elderly, 70+. So being church for us at the moment is not about gathering, but the sense of community and fellowship is still there. Some of our churches are once again open for socially distanced (and masked) services and for private prayer but many members of the congregations are still ‘shielding’. They’re able to do their daily devotions and keep in touch with one another, but they are longing to gather in the church building. That’s very sad for people.
However, I think we are still ‘being church’; for example, several members of the 6 o’clock congregation who live close to one another have been in and out of hospital during lockdown. The care for one another in that community has been absolutely amazing – they wouldn’t call it a Christian witness, but I would. Their care and compassion is a visible sign of their faith.
God is so good and although it has taken me some time, I’ve learned in this lockdown that I really can trust God. I am learning to be quiet and go deeper with God; I’ve learned how to hold people before God. In my ministry, when I visit people who are sick or dying, I very often give them a holding cross, but I’ve never used one myself until now. Now, if I hold people before God by name, holding my cross, that’s very helpful and very powerful. I don’t know why I’ve not practiced what I’ve preached before, but I do now.
What I’ve been encouraging people to do, is to keep people in their prayers. In ‘normal’ life, when we’re busy out and about, we do pray for people, but it can be rushed and superficial.
But in this time when we can’t ‘do’, our prayers for people are no small thing; praying is never a small thing, but at this time I believe our goal is to do that deeper prayer, which protects and holds and keeps.'
You can learn more about Anna Chaplaincy for Older People at annachaplaincy.org.uk.