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'Waterways Babs' in new chaplaincy role

A former teacher known to her friends as 'Waterways Babs' is set to become Lead Chaplain for the Northern Region as part of the Britain's growing Waterways Chaplaincy movement.

Barbara Davis, a 55 year old former teacher of RE, Philosophy and Ethics and the business world before that, has been appointed to this challenging half-time role and will be commissioned formally on 16 September.

Known to her many friends on the waterways as ‘Waterways Babs’; Barbara has owned a narrowboat for seven years and for six of those she has been one of the quietly growing team of Waterways Chaplains operating on and around Britain’s rivers and canals.

“There were only 22 Chaplains when I started,”  she says, “but we now have around 80. Some are land-based while others, as I did for more than three years, actually live on their boats.

“Becoming Lead Chaplain for the Northern Region will change my life, despite already being deeply involved, and I hope I can be instrumental in helping the ministry flourish yet more. I love what I do and have some great colleagues to work alongside.”

National Senior Waterways Chaplain, the Revd Mark Chester (pictured with Barbara), is delighted by the appointment: “I have known Barbara to be an effective chaplain over a number of years and I believe she will bring a fresh and innovative approach to developing the Chaplaincy in the North of England.”

The Waterways Chaplaincy movement has developed strongly in the past 11 years under the auspices of Workplace Matters, a St Albans-based umbrella organisation with a history of spotting needs and supplying chaplains to industry, airports, town centres and other settings where people often require pastoral support beyond the services provided by human resources teams.

The waterways have long been recognised as often very beautiful but also potentially isolating for those who live and work on or around them. People often take to the water in a narrowboat after early retirement, or maybe the break up of a relationship, happy to be free of the constraints of dry land. However, they may then find that when health breaks down or some other misadventure happens, 65 feet of steel boat just seven feet wide and a long way from health and other essential services, can start to feel like a prison.

“Our chaplains, all volunteers working with the backing of their churches, agree to walk a length of towpath regularly, wearing their distinctively marked – but not very flattering – gilets,” says Barbara. “In some areas the pastoral concerns can be really demanding, so we are always looking for more people from mainstream Christian backgrounds to volunteer for this work prepared to be ‘practically proactive and spiritually reactive’.”

The new Lead Waterways Chaplain for the Northern Region lives in Cheddleton, Staffordshire, and maintains her boat, Quiescence nearby on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Newly arrived in the area she worships at Park Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

“I am very excited to be starting this autumn,” she says, “and having settled in this lovely area I know it is well placed to cover the waterways of the North, where I look forward to meeting and working alongside some dynamic colleagues and seeing this ministry even more blessed than it has been to date.”

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