our waterways chaplain
what lies beneath?
I took Easter Week out with my two brothers and our wives on the Shroppie, aboard one of Chas Harden’s hire fleet based at Beeston Castle. It was great and all we did was head the very few miles into Chester and pausing there before the short hop to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. I did not go as a Chaplain, although I did make a point of wearing my Waterways Chaplain baseball hat.
There was very little about, but on the way back we encountered a large number of interesting traditional boats all heading for a rally at the museum. They all ploughed past us accompanied by the deep throated chug of a Lister twin or maybe a Gardner or a Dorman diesel and in one case certainly a Bolinder was smoking things up in its distinctive leisurely way. Most were looking their best and conveyed enormous colourful charm, but we were painfully aware that for many, crew accommodation was pretty cramped and minimal by comparison to the glamping luxury of our hire boat.
That was one ‘less beautiful below the surface’ observation of the week.
Another lay at the bottom of the two locks to the lower basin of the Ellesmere Port museum. We were advised to swing our 65’ semi trad as sharply to the left as possible on exiting the bottom lock as there was a ‘wreck’ in the way. We duly did so, but the wreck intrigued me, and even more so when I found out that what had lain just beneath the surface for many years with the remains of its funnel sticking out was an old RN Harbour Service Launch. As a steamboat owner I know about these sturdy old wooden WW1 & 2 HSLs, many of which were steam powered, although this was a diesel specimen. But it was another contrast: something rather sad, mostly hidden beneath the placid waters of a lovely place.
It’s this business of ‘what lies beneath the surface’ that is so significant for the Waterways Chaplaincy. Most people on the cut are very happy to chat and be friendly, and as they do, things emerge signalling to Chaplains that all is not necessarily well. It’s all about listening with care and being prepared to ask pertinent questions which might elicit why someone is clearly not at peace, for example, or is struggling with paying for upkeep of the boat, or maybe is in need of support through a health or other crisis.
So, peaceful though our canal system is, there’s a huge amount of ‘stuff’ lurking just beneath the surface and that’s why Chaplains seek to be aware of the people around them who share their passion for the waterways but maybe could do with a modicum of support. The word ‘Chaplain’ may sound a bit frightening and give rise to thoughts that we all mildly crazed ‘sky pilots’. But far from it: the eighty or so Waterways Chaplains dotted around the system are highly practical people, motivated by a strong Christian faith most certainly, but they are there for everyone.