December 2023 Update
Living on the waterways may seem like a dream, but, for many, it’s a challenging reality. Accessing healthcare, finding a supportive community and nurturing spiritual connections can feel like an impossible task. That’s where the Waterways Chaplaincy steps in.
The Waterways Chaplaincy is dedicated to helping those who call the waterways their home, providing practical, pastoral and spiritual support. And with the growing number of volunteers, this vital ministry is making a difference. However, with 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, there’s still much more to be done.
Here we introduce Chris Upton, the new National Lead for Waterways Chaplains. With over 20 years of experience in ministry, Chris is eager to roll up his sleeves and make an impact.
“Before joining the Waterways Chaplaincy, I worked as a Baptist minister in Howarth, West Yorkshire – home of the Brontes – and we have been here since 2000. I loved the role and being able to dig deep into the local community, but I decided that maybe it was time to stretch my wings a little. I first came across Waterways Chaplains at Greenbelt festival. I got my name on the mailing list and began receiving emails. When I saw the Waterways position, there were a couple of things that really stood out to me. Boats and sailing have always been a passion of mine – my first degree was in Naval Architecture, so anything to do with boats is a real draw. I have also developed a growing recognition that I work better outside of the church, where I can take the church to people, and so the chaplaincy bit really caught my eye. I am looking forward to the challenge and developing a good in-depth knowledge of local chaplains and experiencing being a Waterways Chaplain.
I’m a big believer in the local congregation discerning how best to respond to the local context, and I think that’s in keeping with Church Army’s focus on projects and each one being distinct and individual. Waterways Chaplaincy is growing, but there is still room for further growth for it to meet the need. There are 2,000 miles of tow paths, and we don’t yet have enough chaplains to cover them all. I would like to see Waterways Chaplaincy be visible to those who need us and those in the church. I also want to encourage the church to understand Waterways Chaplaincy so that we can work in sync with local churches to provide better care and cover for people in tow-path communities up and down the country that have been forgotten. Six million people a year use these waterways, and they’re a great place for spiritual refreshment, time out and everything else that people use the canals and tow paths for.
As part of Church Army, Waterways Chaplaincy needs to be willing to go in humility and be Christ’s hands and feet, meeting the needs of people where they are. Chaplaincy on the waterways is a great format for that.”