Up for a new Challenge? How about becoming a Waterways Chaplain?
Life after full-time work offers countless new opportunities. And if you enjoy the open air and have a gift for helping people, here’s something that may well float your boat.
The UK’s river and canal network is home to a large number of boat-dwellers as well as those who take to the water for fun. And out there – offering friendship, practical support and a listening ear – are Waterway Chaplains.
There’s a great need for many more to join their ranks. That’s because we want every stretch of the UK’s 2,200 or so miles of navigable canals and rivers to have a visible Christian presence.
“As Senior Chaplain”, Mark Chester says, “it’s my job to make that happen and our vision is, by 2020 , we will have increased our present 85+ Waterway Chaplains to 200.
This is a great rewarding opportunity those with time to offer and a heart for people – to extend the love of Christ through pastoral care, friendship and practical support.”
What kind of needs are there on the waterways?
Don’t imagine a Waterway Chaplain’s flock is made up of posh, self-sufficient, people with boats. It’s not all P J Wodehouse’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ – larking about on the river. Yes, there are those using the waterways for fun or seeking an escape to tranquility in their active retirement. But there are many on limited incomes. They may be there because a boat offers affordable accommodation. With some struggling to get by, often experiencing health and relationship problems.
That’s why I can tell you about people like –
‘Jim’ – with depression and financial problems. He was helped by a chaplain – over a period of months – to get housing benefit, appeal when his benefits were stopped, and have access to a food bank until he was well enough to return to work.
‘Alex’ – dying of cancer. A chaplain supported him, hosted his American family who came for his funeral and led a service to scatter his ashes attended by about 30 people from the local boating community.
‘Jenny’ – feeling lost and alone. She had a new-born child and a husband who had lost his job. Too far from Citizen’s Advice and with no money for transport or fuel, she needed help. After a chaplain put a card under her door, ‘Jenny’ was helped with their immediate problems with the chaplain staying in touch until they were back on their feet.’
‘Bill – sleeping rough as he journeyed between locations, with thoughts of suicide. He thanked a chaplain for saving his life by being in touch by text as he walked along the towpath.
‘Dave’ – living on £50 a week. A chaplain help him claim housing benefit and have access to a food bank. When bitten by a dog, the chaplain arranged for his infection to be treated as a temporary patient.
What kind of people are Waterway Chaplains?
Our volunteer chaplains come from local churches and include both lay people and ordained ministers. Some have a background of boating. Others have had no previous experience of inland waterways as you don’t need a boat to be a Waterways Chaplain.
They commit to walking a mile of towpath each week, engaging with boaters, canal workers, anglers, dog-walkers, ramblers and others. Sometimes it will just be a walk – praying as they go. But this regular journey, with a listening ear and a praying heart, may well lead to relationships with those who need to talk or have other needs to be met.
Senior Chaplains provide practical training and mentoring support, including prayer. Each chaplain is given a lock windlass engraved with our key values ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God’ (Micah 6.8). It’s a scripture that perfectly sums up the role of a Waterway Chaplain.
Could this be a role that you – or someone you know – could take on? Please find out more about this wonderful opportunity to serve others in the name of Jesus at Waterways Chaplaincy.
This article is updated from an interview given by Mark Chester to Afterworknet.com in November 2018.