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‘We’re here to look after boaters on the canal’

Waterways Chaplain Helen Walker is one of 120 volunteer lay ministers who care for the ‘boaters’ who use the UK’s network of canals.

Helen’s modern ministry has been borne out of a decision to move to her boat full time with her husband, 16 months ago. She had been a licensed lay minister at her local church in Combe, near Witney, before training to join the Waterways Chaplaincy charity.
Helen said: “Over the years it got harder and harder to leave the boat at the end of a weekend or a holiday, and we just realised that this was where we wanted to be. 

“My ministry is about walking alongside people in trying to make a difference to people’s lives. We are there to help anyone who uses the canal or the towpath. We are happy to have a conversation with people if that is want they want. I am trying to be God’s hands and feet, spreading his message of love through the practical support I give.”

Helen has become a listening ear and sometimes a helping hand to those who make the canals their home. Part of her training includes instruction on how to use the locks on the waterways as well as the pastoral support she offers. One of the biggest challenges facing ‘boaters’ is the impact their transient lifestyle has on accessing services like GPs and government benefits. 

Helen explained: “The fact it is a transitory lifestyle can also pose challenges. If you did not have a home mooring, where you pay rent, you have to move on every 14 days. So finding work that accommodates that sort of a transitory lifestyle can be difficult. The boating community were also one of the last to fuel support from the government, even though the cost of coal has doubled in the last two years. So I can help with getting people the help they need.”

Later this month Helen, who works for the Diocese of Oxford as a safeguarding and training adviser, will be taking her chaplaincy further afield as she and husband Antony embark on an eight-month journey round the canals of Britain. 

She said: “My ministry will change then, it’ll be about letting people know we are here and who to ask for help.”

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Page last updated: Tuesday 4th June 2024 4:22 PM
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