It's not always plain sailing on the canals
Having had a three-month 'sabbatical' due to health issues, Bob and I returned to Waterways Chaplaincy, planning to only walk our local and very quiet flight of six locks at Buckby. God often has other plans though! A couple of weeks later our Lead Chaplain Sarah, contacted us because 'Boater H' had put a plea for help in an emergency on the Waterways Chaplaincy ‘contact us’ part of the website. She was at the top of "our" lock flight. We texted her briefly, introducing ourselves and invited her to phone us when she was ready.
Her story was one chaplains regularly hear: a failed relationship, dire finances because all her money had been invested in a boat in October and, inexperienced, she had set out to live on board with her teenage son and infant school-aged daughter.
But all went wrong, her son hated the boat, there wasn’t enough wifi, H had a mental breakdown and then broke her wrist. Social services placed the children in care with a family member. The boat heating wasn’t working properly, and H had very little diesel and no coal, and no money to buy more. Because she did not have the children the benefits given on their behalf stopped and so she had a much-reduced income.
During a visit to the local GP surgery, H was signposted to Waterways Chaplaincy (in the past Chaplains have got appointments for boaters at that surgery and left literature). We contacted the local coal boat; amazingly he was moored one lock down and he put some diesel, coal, and kindling on her boat as he passed. The following morning we left some fresh food with her.
The support worker at the surgery phoned H to say that she had a large number of pallets that H could use for her fire so we contacted two other local Chaplains, Kim and Fergus. They collected the pallets for her, and also made contact with her.
Over the next few weeks, with our support, the children's social worker allowed H's daughter to return to the boat, though her son remained adamant he wouldn't go on board.
With her daughter back, but a delay in receiving benefit because of that, we felt it important for more fresh food to be available. We got another couple of bags to deliver, and - with her permission (she has tried to encourage the children to eat healthily!) - got two chocolate Advent calendars for the children as the date was 29 November.
Having left all this with her, we then asked if she would mind if each day we texted a small part of the Christmas story so she could share it with her daughter. H was delighted, said she believes in God, and knows that all these recent good things have come from Him.
A few days later H phoned us about 5.45 pm. Having ascertained that there was no problem, I explained that I could not chat for long because at 6pm several of us from Church were having a Zoom time to pray for the nation. H asked what we were praying about that night and said she would say a prayer then too. The next morning we had a text to say that her daughter had wanted to say a prayer too.
A couple of weeks later we had another phone call from her with the really good news that a nearby marina had a mooring available for her to live on, close enough to her daughter‘s school so she doesn’t have to change schools. It was a real answer to prayer. It took H 4 days to make the journey to and through Braunston tunnel, down the 7 locks (helped by, she said, a “random angel” who happened to be there!) and on to her new mooring. Last night we received the texts to say she had arrived, and she has got herself a Bible!
So, daily, a small part of the Nativity story is being relayed. For example, as I write this, the story features a very wise man in the East noticing a new bright star in the sky - what could it mean?
And, Bob and I know that God definitely had plans!
Boater H has been in contact saying:
“I am so grateful to you both in many ways, I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself to get into a better headspace. Just got to keep digging deep to get my life back after my breakdown.
Again, I can’t thank you both, Kim and Fergus, Jodie from the surgery, for finding you and ultimately a higher power that brought the chain of events to the forefront at exactly the perfect time! I feel very privileged to have been given the help and support I’ve received otherwise it could have been a very different outcome.
So, I can’t stress enough that all of this kindness has been brought together to deliver what I needed when I needed it the most and has categorically SAVED A LIFE! God bless you all.
Thank you so much again… Your faith led me back to having some myself”.
Waterways Chaplaincy offers support to those who use and live on the UK waterways and canals. Chaplains are volunteers from local churches who regularly visit the waterways offering companionship and a listening ear to individuals and businesses. Waterways Chaplaincy are part of the Church Army family!
If you want to explore becoming a volunteer Waterways Chaplain, please have a look around Waterways Chaplaincy’s website or send them an email.
15 January 2021
Jan and her husband Bob became Waterways Chaplains at the beginning of 2016, hearing 'the call' through a request from their Bishop (a keen sailor) to find out who were his Waterways Chaplains for the Northamptonshire and Peterborough areas - there were none! Until the end of 2019 they were Roving Chaplains on their boat each May to October. They'd talk with people on the towpath, at locks, and on moorings. During the winter they formed deeper relationships with local boaters living onboard, often in need of help to obtain benefits, food, or support with mental health issues. Sadly, in 2020 their ill-health meant they had to sell their boat, but they still have a ministry as Chaplains, walking their local lock flight and, during the lockdowns, have still been able to support a number of boaters by telephone.
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