80 and growing
80 chaplains spread around among the canals and waterways of Britain doesn’t sound an enormous number: but when you consider that quite a few of them are continuous cruisers for all or some of each year it’s easy to see that we get about all over the system!
New personnel are always coming aboard and when they do they are commissioned in their local church – which may or may not be canal or riverside – and they are given a gilet by which they can be identified immediately, plus a token of what their chaplaincy means. That token is a cast aluminium lock windlass with their name engraved on it and some very old Bible words.
I have my own before me as I write this: it’s pristine and lives in my study because I have other windlasses aboard the boat, and the words from Micah 6 verse 8 are there loud and clear:
‘Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God’.
That windlass on my bookshelf and the regular tinkling of the phone in my pocket to indicate the arrival of a WhatsApp or a text alert from fellow chaplains asking for prayer, means that all the senses are kept alive to the fact that there is a big task on the waterways as we seek to be proactive at a practical level, and reactive at a spiritual level – as people ask questions or seek specific pastoral support.
Walking my ‘patch’ today was quiet, but significant people were encountered and conversations enjoyed. I met nobody distressed by bereavement or harassed by debt or a relationship issue or even something amiss with their boat. Nevertheless, the bright August sunshine provided a brilliant opportunity to give thanks to God for the beauty of the River Wey – my local navigation and to pray for all using its waters, its towpaths and the various social resources a navigable river offers to a town like Guildford.
I didn’t do so at the time, but I probably should have prayed also for the graffiti artists who have expended a lot of acrylic under the bridge that carries the A3 over the river.
As an aside, a recent visit to the Black Country Museum reminded me that churches have sought to provide support to waterways people for many years – long before the present Chaplaincy movement began. They have there a wonderful horse drawn caravan and I couldn’t help but ask for a picture on it!
But of course work we do is entirely contemporary and if you want to find out more or are considering joining us, do check out our website.