Waterways Chaplaincy join CA

Welcome aboard!

You may be living next to a canal or river, but do you know how close it is? 75% of UK’s population lives only five miles from one. Across England and Wales alone there are 2,000 miles of waterways forming connections between towns. Many people aren’t aware there is an entire community that uses these waters for their hobbies, jobs, businesses and for many more people the waterways are their home! WWC is an organisation of trained chaplains from a range of denominations who walk the waterways, offering pastoral care and spiritual support to people whose life and work is centred around these waters. Church Army are delighted to welcome the Waterways Chaplaincy chaplains aboard with their enthusiasm, wisdom and shared vision to see people who live on the margins get the opportunity to know Jesus.

Mark Chester is a Church of England Priest and Senior Waterways Chaplain and has been involved with Waterways for eight years. We caught up with Mark to find out more about this exciting organisation and the brilliant work they carry out on the waterways of Britain. 

The canals are used by people from all different walks of life, mainly boaters but also people fishing, cycling and dog walking. Waterways Chaplaincy is about coming alongside those people providing a practical expression of Christ’s love. The aim is to be pastorally proactive rather than reactive and this means helping in a practical way and waiting for them to ask why we are there and why we want to help, which normally doesn’t take long. This allows us to then talk about Jesus and Gods love. We think of our services as being a three-pronged approach, firstly by offering practical help, if we see someone on a canal bridge and they haven’t eaten, we will organise a meal. We would then want to empower that person in whatever ways are appropriate to their situation and this could be a whole range of different things such as offering support with getting benefit advice. Thirdly, and this is what underpins the ministry, is to offer spiritual support and guidance. When people hit dark times, they often find themselves asking what the meaning of life is and as Christians we have answers which can provide hope. We are in partnership with local churches where we can refer people to when they are searching for spiritual nourishment, but we always try and administer spiritual first-aid with bible passages and prayers.

WWC mainly see people who need our help after falling on hard times and some of these people have taken to the waters to escape society, others are there as they feel they have no choice but whatever the reason there is a whole spectrum of life on the waterways. There is a range of communities, some are grouped by function such a businesses who provide canal boat trips, café boats and there is a network of people who sell fuel and other essentials to the boaters. Often the residential boaters are divorced, middle aged men and they can often find themselves on the outskirts of society and feel isolated and lonely.

A day in the life of waterways chaplain is always different but most would start with a walk of a few miles on the tow path and pray to ask God to provide an encounter with someone in need and that they would have the wisdom to recognise the opportunity to help someone. We do receive a lot of referrals through the website and often through people who have been helped by a chaplain before. This help can be for anything from supporting someone through bereavement, to keeping their boat afloat which is often their home too.

It is wonderful to be part of the Church Army family, a lot of the work we do is in step with the great work Church Army do and we have a similar ethos and mission strategy. I am sure it will be beneficial to all, none more so than the people we continue to serve.

Prayers in Focus

Pray that the Lord would call more volunteer chaplains to serve Him on the waterways.

Pray for those in need that we encounter, that we would minister in love and with humility.

Pray for strengthened missional partnerships with canal side churches and Christian communities.

Pray that the transition of WWC to become part of the CA family would be smooth and a blessing to both.