The Gift of Years and Anna Chaplaincy to Older People


We are looking forward to welcoming Debbie Thrower – the team leader of The Gift of Years as our keynote speaker for our annual conference on 16th June. Debbie explains here the valuable work of the charity and the impact that it has on older people:
An Anna Chaplain listens carefully to the story of a person’s life because it is through our personal histories, the telling of our story (especially when reflected back to us) that we make sense of who we are, our identity past, present, and future, writes Debbie Thrower, former broadcaster, pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy and team leader of The Gift of Years.
The number of Anna Chaplains in the country who have time to bring comfort to those finding old age challenging is growing. There are currently 22 Anna Chaplains and The Gift of Years Network of such chaplains, and others in equivalent roles, is more than 50 strong.
The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) is the home of The Gift of Years. At the heart of the programme lies development of the Anna Chaplaincy model of supporting older people which began in Alton, Hampshire. It’s named after the widow Anna who appears with Simeon in St Luke’s gospel; both fine role models of faithful older people who believed God’s promises, and transcended loss and the diminishments of older age.
The demographic changes Britain is experiencing, in common with other developed countries, are dramatic. There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18, and by 2040 the number of people over 85 is predicted to more than double to 3.4 million. Our rapidly ageing population brings with it challenges, but also opportunities to help change lives for the better.
Ageing is a journey, which includes a spiritual dimension, whether someone has a faith or not; and attending to spiritual needs can improve a person’s physical and mental health. Evidence from more than 1,200 medical studies has shown an association between faith and religious practices and related health benefits. These include an improved immune system, faster recovery rates and an increased ability to cope with illness. The importance of spiritual health has been recognised by the UN and it is also one of the four dimensions to well-being defined by the World Health Organisation (the other dimensions being physical, mental and social well-being).
Spiritual Care is a professionally recognised practice within the NHS, which seeks to help people rediscover hope, resilience and inner strength in times of illness, injury, transition and loss. Identifying and responding to spiritual need is within the remit of all health and social care workers, but staff do not always detect the need for spiritual support and can be uncomfortable with broaching spiritual issues with patients.
Churches are well placed help address this. They are primarily concerned with spiritual matters, present in most communities in the UK and have a desire to help meet local community needs. Numerous older people are unable to be part of a faith community in a traditional sense (e.g. by attending church services and community events) due to health and mobility problems or because they live in residential care. Anna Chaplaincy can help, as it brings spiritual care to older people, wherever they are. For example:
Nora, a former nurse, was matter of fact about her situation, when I filmed a conversation with her: ‘I’ve gradually got to what I now am, at 90, seriously old. And the process of getting seriously old is not particularly attractive. You become so frustrated,’ she said.
When Nora moved to her close care apartment she’d thought ‘another five years and it will see me out.’ But at the time of filming she’d already been there 13 years. She was grateful when an Anna Chaplain was appointed and could spend time visiting her.
As any pastoral visitor will report, such visits are never one-way affairs. There’s much to be gleaned, on both sides. Eavesdropping, the camera recorded me saying to Nora, ‘What I love about visiting you is that we always have something up our sleeves to share with each other, something we’ve read during the week, a poem or a prayer… I find I’m always very stimulated by what it is you have got to tell me.’
‘And I’m really, always, totally delighted when we say our prayers and you read the prayers for me and it’s wonderful and of course I can tell you anything I especially want prayed for, and you include that, which makes it even more personal,’ she said.
The Gift of Years DVD can be obtained from BRF Online
Bible Reflections for Older People are available at

For more information about Anna Chaplaincy and Resources visit

The Gift of Years
The Gift of Years is a core part of BRF’s overall vision to transform lives and communities – inspiring, equipping and enabling churches to meet older people’s spiritual needs.
The aim of The Gift of Years is to improve the spiritual lives of older people throughout the UK. As the programme has developed its objectives have been refined as follows:

  • Increase provision of spiritual care services for older people
  • Raise awareness of older people’s spiritual needs
  • Improve skills, knowledge and confidence within communities in addressing these needs.

Through local churches the network of Anna Chaplains, and others in equivalent roles, who deliver spiritual care services for older people is expanding. Anna Chaplains can be lay or ordained; and work in care homes, private homes, churches and community settings with people of any or no faith.
The work of Anna Chaplains is varied, but often includes visiting individuals; offering information about local social events, transport schemes and volunteer opportunities; discussing life’s Big Questions and other matters of concern. Many Anna Chaplains also deliver communion and conduct funeral services. Each is appointed and recognised by their local church or Churches Together group. The approach is tried and tested and available as an off-the-shelf package for churches to use.

The Bible Reading Fellowship

The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) is a registered Christian charity (number: 233280) established in 1922. We are passionate about making a difference through the Christian faith. Our primary objective is to see lives and communities transformed through our creative programmes and resources for individuals, churches and schools.

Today BRF’s charitable activities resource:



1. Our Bible reading notes, books, digital resources, Quiet Days and events resource individuals, groups and church leaders for their own spiritual journey and for their ministry.

2. We are home to three programmes that churches are embracing to great effect as they seek to engage with local communities and transform lives, namely: Messy Church, The Gift of Years and Who Let The Dads Out?

3. Our Barnabas in Schools team works with primary aged children and teachers to enable them to explore Christianity creatively within the school curriculum. We are one of the very few professional service providers in RE.

4. BRF’s newest programme, Parenting for Faith, aims to envision, equip and support Christian parents to effectively disciple their children and help them grow in the Christian faith. We also work with churches and families via our Barnabas in Churches and Faith in Homes websites.



[1] Later Life in the United Kingdom, Age UK, February 2016, 3
[1] Later Life in the United Kingdom, 3
[1] Harriet Mowat and Maureen O’Neill, Insights 19; Spirituality and ageing: implications for the care and support of older people, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services, January 2013, 2
[1] Mowat, Insights 19; Spirituality and ageing: implications for the care and support of older people, 9
[1] At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, delegates reached agreement on Agenda 21: The earth summit strategy to save our planet (Dan Sitarz). The paper stated that “Health ultimately depends on the ability to manage successfully the interaction between the physical, spiritual, biological and economic/social environment (factors).”
[1] World Health Organisation Publication: Year 1991; Issue 9290211407, World Health Organisation, Chapter 4
[1] Spiritual Care: (30 March 2016)
[1] POST note 481: Palliative and End of Life Care, Houses of Parliament Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, October 2014, 2

Chaplaincy Training Course

We are excited to be running the second chaplaincy course after easter in collaboration with Anna Chaplaincy. This follows a successful pilot course which ran from November to December 2023 and was attended by eight volunteers...

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