Living ‘off-grid’ means that we have become much more self-reliant. We are responsible for filling our own water tank, emptying our own bins and toilet, buying our own food & fuel, and collecting our own firewood (even when it’s minus 10 degrees!). I have learned how to service the diesel engine, top up the batteries and splice ropes. Each day we choose where we moor up and, if we don’t like the scenery, or the neighbours, we can move on down the cut.
But this does not mean that we are isolated. Quite the opposite. Over the last 18 months, we have come to realise that we have joined a strong community. We feel privileged to be accepted by what the government would call ‘the waterways traveller community’ and grateful for the support that they, and other boaters, give us.
In return, we offer what we can. Part of this has involved becoming Waterways Chaplains. Since being commissioned in Bethany Baptist Church, Cardiff, last July, we have ministered to a huge range of people on the canals. For most, this has consisted of a cheery wave or friendly chat on the towpath. For others, this has involved a 7hr conversation about the purpose and meaning of life, help with bike maintenance, or support with crippling financial and health issues. Where relevant, we give out information about local services and pocket New Testaments.
One thing that has struck us during this time, has been the value of ‘living amongst’. Most of the opportunities that arise, occur because we are ‘there’. Occasionally, the chaplaincy will send through referrals, but mostly, the conversations start because someone is moored next to us, meets us at a lock, or is walking the towpath. We do not seek out these encounters and never ‘push’ our faith on others, but, as chaplains, we are open about the hope that is within us and willing to listen and care for those around us.
And whilst we are unusual in being present on the waterways full-time, this is what every chaplain does when they don their gilet and walk their mile of towpath (or more) each week. As they walk, they make themselves freely ‘available’ to those that they meet: the walkers, the anglers, the boaters.
And as I read the gospels, I see this modelled by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. He spent 3 years travelling with no apparent itinerary or agenda. Many of his most notable conversations were had with random strangers by the roadside. He owned very little but shared what he had. And, whilst he dealt with people’s physical needs (feeding and healing thousands), he always looked deeper into the yearnings of their hearts and souls.
So, this summer, as the towpaths get busier and holiday boaters come out to cruise the network, we are praying that we will encounter people in their time of need. We are praying that we will have the wisdom to know how to respond and that we will never shirk from doing what God has called us to do. Most of all, we pray that we will see beyond the physical to see the deeper spiritual needs of those we are ‘living amongst’.