Lockdown stories: business as (un)usual for Prime Timers
Hear from representatives from across the BRF ministries to share the ups and downs, the high points and the low points of their locked-down year in our series of lockdown story blogs. Today we hear from Penny Naylor, a member of the Anna Chaplaincy Network and Senior's Ministry Lead at Busbridge and Hambledon Church in Godalming.
A different kind of busy!
‘I bet you can’t be busy!’, ‘Oh – is Older Person’s Ministry still going at the moment?’, ‘I thought you would have been furloughed…’ are all comments that have come my way in the year since we entered lockdown. I could have been offended; but actually I prefer to view such encounters as God providing an opportunity to spread the word as to what people engaged in ministry among older people actually do.
So how has lockdown been for me? In a word – ‘Busy’! But it’s a different type of busyness to the kind I experienced prior to the pandemic. In my pre-Covid existence, my diary was full of events and activities which created opportunities for older adults to meet socially; ‘Tea & Talk’ afternoons, Movie Matinees, Hearing Aid Clinics, ‘Walk & Pub Lunch’ events, Short Mat Bowls, Coffee Mornings and the occasional outing. All of these activities came to an abrupt stop in mid-March last year and haven’t yet restarted; however, I’ve kept as busy ever whilst managing to spend much more time sitting down!
Although for much of the last year, restrictions have prevented the face-to-face contact that is such an integral part of this ministry, far from side-lining what we do – ministry for older people has never been more needed. For my ministry specifically, the past year has been about helping our older adults stay connected; connected to the church, connected to each other and connected to the community around them.
Prior to the pandemic, through our Prime Time social activities group and our befriending scheme we were regularly supporting in excess of 150 people and if you took into account all the users of our hearing aid clinics, that number would be more than doubled. That’s a significant number of older adults who suddenly found themselves with much more limited options to socialise and seek support.
We are fortunate in that at least two thirds of the older adults we regularly support do in fact have access to the internet and this has definitely given us greater scope in the provision of online activities. We hold quiz afternoons on Zoom, regular ‘Catch Up & Chat’ times in addition to more one-offs such as our VE Day Anniversary Virtual Tea Party and the Sing-a-Long Christmas Carols session. We also managed to recreate the annual Prime Time Carol Service as an online pre-recorded version with a chance to join the team on Zoom following the service, even if this year our guests had to supply their own mulled wine and mince pies!
Perhaps though, the surprise hit of the pandemic has been the Prime Time weekly letter. It started out of necessity in the first week of lockdown when I needed to let everyone know that Prime Time as they knew it would be taking a break for a while, but offering reassurance that during this time we would make every effort to stay in contact and keep them connected with the group. I received so many encouraging responses that I decided to try another the following week and here we are a year later and the weekly letter has become central to our lockdown ministry, although for logistical reasons, those who can get emails receive their weekly letter electronically these days. The letter now even has its own blog on the church website, so popular was it proving with non-Prime Timers! The letter has covered diverse topics from Captain Tom to Scarecrows and we started 2021 with a short series covering Joy, Love, Hope and Peace, inspired by my 94 year old aunt’s observations on this year’s New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna.
In my ministry with older adults, I have always tried to inspire a continued sense of self belief and self-worth. And that is something that Covid hasn’t changed.
‘They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green’ (Psalm 92:14)
During lockdown, via the weekly letter, Prime Timers have been encouraged to support each other by becoming a ‘phone buddy’ to another member, to knit angels for a town-wide yarn-bombing Christmas project, to unleash their inner creativity and submit art & craft projects for an exhibition staged in the church during advent and film themselves reading a story for our online Sunday morning children’s groups.
Promoting understanding and collaboration between the generations has long been a central concept to my ministry. In pre-Covid times, for someone who works with older adults I spent a surprising amount of time in schools.
Although lockdown has temporarily stopped my visits to schools, during the pandemic there has been a lot of collaboration with our Children, Youth and Families Team which has helped keep the needs of older people in the minds of our local children. The pre-recorded Prime Time Christmas Carol Service featured contributions from two local schools; just as it would have done had we been able to gather in person. While our ‘Creative Kindness’ initiative has seen pictures, handmade cards, collages, illustrated research on favourite topics and even some origami arrive at the Church Office to be sent on to older adults in our community who due to lockdown may be feeling isolated or lonely. These were followed at Christmas by handmade cards made by our Sunday morning children’s groups with a basket making activity planned in time for Easter. These will then be filled with chocolate eggs and distributed to the older members of our community to show they are still being remembered one year into lockdown.
Over recent weeks there does seem to have been a greater sense of optimism that in the not-too-distant future, lockdown will be coming to a permanent end. To mark this milestone, our next project is to put together a Yearbook reflecting Prime Timers’ experiences during lockdown; from new recipes we’ve tried, to poems we’ve written and the TV programmes that have helped to get us through. All will be documented as a permanent record of these strangest of times and as a reminder to us all that although life as we knew it stopped for a year, Prime Time and most importantly the Prime Timers most definitely did not; we just adapted. Whether my ministry will return exactly to its pre-pandemic form remains to be seen, but of one thing I am certain – it will continue to be ‘business as (un)usual!’
Penny Naylor, a member of BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy Network, is the Seniors’ Ministry Lead at Busbridge and Hambledon Church in Godalming, Surrey. There is a long standing connection between BHC and Anna Chaplaincy as Penny’s predecessor Mark Pateman was one of the Network’s initial members. Born and raised in Somerset, Penny now lives in Godalming with her husband and 17 year old son. Penny had a weekend job as a Care Assistant in a Residential Home from the age of 13 before going into nursing on leaving school and later moving into social work.