the diary of iris lloyd
From Iris, on the Kennet and Avon canal
I have recently become a Waterways Chaplain. Have you not heard of such a person? It is said that we are the waterways’ best kept secret!
We are a community of trained volunteers who walk the towpaths and river banks of Britain, offering a friendly chat and our help to any boater in need who confides in us.
Because of these uncertain times, I have had to train online and haven’t yet been able to begin this ministry. I offered myself for training when I learned that our vicar and his wife are waterways chaplains (our church is beside the canal) and it seemed a worthwhile and pleasurable ministry to pursue.
I have had some experience as I worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau for twenty years so have been used to listening to folks’ problems and doing something about them if at all possible. Sometimes a client would say, as I showed them out after our interview, “Thank you for your time. You have helped me so much,” when, in fact, I had done nothing except listen to them.
That is the first and most important part of any ministry, to listen. I expect we have all had the experience of trying to confide something to a friend, only to be told, “Yes, I know what you mean. That happened to my aunt Nellie some years ago when...” and off they would go with their own appraisal of the situation and not listen to a word you wanted to say, and in the end, you just give up.
I knew nothing about living on the water when I volunteered – nothing about life on board a narrow boat, nothing about licences, safety on board, mooring regulations, boat engines, onboard accommodation, places to pump out toilets or take on water, or how to operate the locks.
I was quite overwhelmed with this alternative way of living. I had thought that every boater I saw was there for the fun of it and was having a good time, not realising the back stories and sometimes great needs that had arisen for a variety of reasons. We chaplains are here to help in whatever way we can. We are not here to get you into church if you don’t want to come!
We remember that the first miracle that Jesus performed was practical – turning water into wine to save the embarrassment of the bridal party when the wine had run out and their sponsor was calling for his glass to be refilled.
We learn the etiquettes of boating – helping to get the boats safely through the locks; not stepping aboard without an invitation; not peering through windows – as if we would!
We commit to walking at least a mile a week alongside the water, or the equivalent for the chaplains on the Broads. We are happy just getting to know the boaters – at least, those who don’t dive inside the cabin when they see us approaching – and having a chat about our dogs or the weather. We may also be able to signpost someone to the nearest chemist or foodbank or help fill out a form to claim a benefit.
You will know us because we are given a dark blue gilet to wear with “Waterways Chaplain” printed on the back.
You will know that we belong to a nationwide organisation and will try to help in any situation we meet where a boater is in need or trouble.
So do please speak to us if you see us passing your boat. We trust that you don’t bite and we certainly don’t! A cheery “Hello!” will be very welcome.
And if anyone reading this is intrigued and would like to know more about becoming a chaplain, please get in touch. There can never be enough of us!
You can find out more by visiting the Waterways Chaplaincy website