Debbie Nouwen, a highly experienced boater with many years of experience living aboard her own canal boat, has been commissioned as the first Deputy National Waterways Chaplain.
Debbie, alongside her training for Anglican ministry, is overseeing development of a new and growing ministry in the north of England, starting in North Yorkshire and moving down towards the midlands. She is the first to hold the role and her challenge is to serve an area covering hundreds of miles of waterways with almost no chaplains in the northern area at present.
At a service held at St Luke’s Holbeck, Leeds, which borders the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool canal, the Bishop of Richmond, Rt Revd Paul Slater presented Debbie with an engraved lock windlass – the basic tool of all canal users. It bears the words of Micah 6.8: ‘Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.’
Debbie says her work as a chaplain will be to develop a team of volunteers across the canal network. “My challenge is to develop an effective team of chaplains covering the northern waterways by recruiting new volunteers to the role. They need to be rooted in their local church and are asked to pray for, and also to walk, one mile of canal per week, engaging the people they meet and offering a listening ear and practical and spiritual support to anyone in need.
“You don’t have to be a boater or ordained to offer this support as full training is give,” says Debbie. “Just being a Christian with a desire to share God’s love with the waterways community, and having a willingness to listen is what’s required!”
But she added that sometimes the work can be lonely and difficult. “Much of the work of the chaplains is with people who have experienced a crisis of some sort or are feeling lonely and isolated”, says Debbie. “It’s hard to access local support when you live the kind of life in which you change locality from day to day!”
Premier’s Northern Correspondent Ian Britton braved the cold to visit Debbie on her canal boat and learn more about this new ministry.