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Waterways Chaplaincy

What is a Waterways Chaplain?

That is a question I am often asked as I walk the towpaths of the River Lee and the River Stort    My name is Lorraine Newman and I have the privilege of being one of around 120 Waterways Chaplains working on over 2000 miles of rivers and canals in England and Wales.  We need many more.

Waterways Chaplains are there for all users of the towpath: dog walkers, boat dwellers , fisherpeople, waterside businesses, canal workers and lots, lots more.  We’re there for people of all faiths and none and in the course of our work we meet all sorts of interesting people who we would be unlikely to see in our churches.  

Waterways Chaplaincy is the most amazing thing that God has asked me to do.  To become a Waterways Chaplain was a big step out of my comfort zone but as soon as I put on my Chaplain’s Gilet and began to walk the towpath I knew that it was the right thing for me.  The work can involve so many different things.  I have supported people through poverty, depression, illness, family breakdown, bereavement, homelessness, suicide attempts to name a few.  It is different every day.  The most important thing is being a ‘listening ear’ to all who need somebody to speak to.  We are there for the good times too.  It is a great joy to be asked to ‘bless a boat’ or attend a wedding.

Our work is practical too.  We may provide emergency food from the food bank or a bag of coal in the winter to keep a boat home warm.  It used to be difficult to sign on with a doctor for boat dwellers with no address or postcode.  One winter l came across a young lady who was expecting a baby on Christmas day(!) but no local doctor would accept her onto their list without an address.  Without a doctor she couldn’t register at the hospital.  With some negotiations from me and some help from an organisation who gave her an address we got her on a doctor’s list and she didn’t need to give birth in a stable!  That was a few years ago, and now, with local relationship building and help from the NHS it is much easier for people of “No Fixed Abode” to get the health treatment they need.

We try to take people from where they are and help them to move to a better place by helping them to claim the benefits to which they are entitled or to apply for a job.  Some boaters become too ill to continue with their boat life and need to find a place to live on land.  I have helped people move to Hertford, Ware, Cambridgeshire and recently to Much Hadham.

We do not proselytize. Instead, we are there to serve.  We are Jesus’ hands and feet and listening ears on the waterways.  In our serving, our faith shines through and we are often asked “Why do you do what you do?”  That is our chance to share our faith.  Many boaters are constantly moving.  If they do not have a home mooring they are expected to move every two weeks and to cover over 20 miles in the course of their year’s licence.  We sow seeds of faith, and they are watered by others. Very occasionally we get to help with the harvest.  One lady who I have known and helped in various ways in the last seven years called me late one night.  She was on the Grand Union Canal so was no longer in my local area.  She had been very distressed by an encounter she had had with somebody that day.  We talked for a long time and gradually the conversation got on to ‘what happens to us when we die?’  She was a believer in reincarnation and told me that she hadn’t done well enough in this life and so would need to come back to do it all again!  I explained to her that the only way was to accept that Jesus has done for her what she is not able to do herself and to ask Him into her life – He would do the rest!  That evening she did just that.    

Could YOU be a Waterways Chaplain?

If you are a member of your local church and would enjoy a walk along the tow path once a week you would be an ideal chaplain.  If you walk your dog along the towpath regularly, you could do that wearing a Chaplain’s Gilet!.   You do not need to be a member of the clergy or a reader but if you are you would be equally welcomed!

You can find more information on our website: 

or give me a call on 07703 302157.

And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6 v 8