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Waterways Chaplains have a very specific task 

What looks like a delightful way of life, can for some, become a prison for the unwary. A chaplain's commitment is to walk along a length of towpath regularly, simply talking to, and connecting with the people they meet and being ready to offer practical support where appropriate

Canal boat

When a chaplaincy to people living on and around Britain's waterways was first mooted a few years ago it might have sounded a bit odd - even unnecessary, because boating is relaxing and a lot of fun.

Well, yes, our beautiful canals and rivers are indeed where a lot of us go to relax and unwind, but just a few years from a pilot project to determine the need, it has become very clear that many of these two million or so people have fallen through the net as far as practical Christian ministry is concerned.

We now have a network of over 70 volunteer Waterways Chaplains walking the towpaths, visiting marinas and taking an interest in the people of our canals and rivers who live, work or simply go there to soak up the atmosphere.

Through our work, it has become clear that there are significant numbers of lonely and isolated people living within the restricted confines of narrow boats, many of whom are cut off from society.

Some may turn to drugs or alcohol, while others with mental health problems can easily withdraw into their boats and themselves, and become separated from life-giving everyday things like engaging conversation, shared laughter, the ability to 'off load' stresses and strains that we all need. This isn’t to mention normal medical, social and other services enjoyed by those of us who live on terra firma.

So what looks like a delightful way of life, can for some, become a prison for the unwary.

There are now two part-time Senior Chaplains co-ordinating operations in the North and South of England. The region of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Southwell & Nottinghamshire is covered by Debbie Nouwen, herself a seasoned boat dweller, an Anglican Ordinand and someone with long experience of supporting people who are vulnerable. Some are boat owners themselves, but most are not. 

They come from a range of different Christian denominations and are both ordained and lay. Their commitment is to walk along a length of towpath regularly, simply talking to, and connecting with the people they meet and being ready to offer practical support where appropriate.

'As chaplains they wear a distinctive gilet which immediately identifies them and they will be knowledgeable about local resources such as medical services, food banks etc. Their brief is to partner with the local church but minister outside ‘the walls of the church in order to seek out ‘the least, the last and the lost.’

'Everyone is trained and supported,' says Debbie. 'The work is not in any way arduous, and there is a lot of mutual support. From my perspective this is a fascinating and eminently worthwhile way for Christian people to be involved with those who are often left out in the cold.

'We would love to hear from you if this is something you would like to explore. You'll be made very welcome!'


Image | Unsplash

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer waterways chaplain, or would like someone to talk to a church group please contact:

Angie Baldwin
Team Leader
Tel: 07771 438062 or angiekbaldwin@gmail.com

Debbie Nouwen
(Deputy National Waterways Chaplain – North of England & Midlands
Tel: 07909 149664 or deborah.nouwen@workplacematters.org.uk 

Visit http://www.waterwayschaplaincy.org.uk/ for more details

Baptist Times, 27/05/2018
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