Where it all started
We became chaplains in 2021 after returning from South Korea, where we had spent several years teaching English and mission cross-culturally. We decided to continue our adventurous spirit and move from the largest continent in the world to our cosy 60 x 6ft narrowboat, Somang. The name means ‘wish’ in Korean, which was very fitting for the hope we had for this next stage of life’s journey.
We‘re chaplains for the Waterways Chaplaincy – an incredible charity offering a listening ear, someone to talk, and advice and signposting through its network of chaplains. Chaplains are often lay people or ministers from local churches.
There are around 35,000 boats on the English canals and rivers, making up a diverse community from all walks of life. This is a community that often gets overlooked, away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities, and isolated from support services that others have access to. It can be a lonely lifestyle, and we’re determined to let everyone know, we’re here. Most Waterways Chaplains live near the canal and sign up to walk a mile of the towpath each week. For us, as roving chaplains, life is quite different. We live on board our boat and are therefore ‘on duty’ 24/7.
We meet people as we go about our everyday boat duties but also connect with people via social media. If we’re nearby, we can meet up and help but other times we contact a local chaplain and pass over any concerns. Last year, we were contacted through social media by a production team who were creating a series of clips for channel 4, Narrow Escapes. The programme is due to be released in January 2024. After our initial interview, the director became extremely interested in our roles as chaplains and wanted this to be the primary focus of the programme. Stay tuned!
Offering care and support
There are many ways a Waterways Chaplain can offer support to those who live on the waterways, here’s just a few examples:
• Handing out food parcels
• Acting as an intermediary between a person/family and support services
• Helping with laundry and day to day chores
• A friendly ear for a coffee and a chat
• Looking after people’s spiritual and mental wellbeing
Connection is an incredibly important part of the role; it’s reminding people that they’re not alone. Often people have this rose-tinted image of life on the water, but things don’t always go to plan and the lifestyle can feel very isolating:
“Life was great on the boat. We were out of the rat race. We had a new born child. Then, my husband lost his job just before winter set in and we developed problems with our heating. We were too far from Citizen’s Advice and had no money to pay for transport or fuel to heat the boat.
“Our problems were compounding, we needed help as we felt lost and alone.
"We were so grateful for the day the Waterways Chaplain popped a card under our door. The Chaplain assisted with our immediate problems and stayed in touch with us until we were back on our feet”. – Family living on the waterways