In July I completed the All Nations BA (Hons) in Biblical and Intercultural Studies. In February I had been offered a job as a railway chaplain, so you can imagine that by July I was keen to start my new role!

When I accepted the job, I knew that part of it would be supporting those involved with fatalities on the railway – be that staff, passengers or families of the deceased.

There has been news in the media lately of the suicide rate among men decreasing. Unfortunately this does not change the fact that the four fatalities I have been asked to respond to in the last few weeks have all involved men. A suicide attempt involving a train has a very high chance of succeeding, but it is also a very violent way to die and would require a great deal of determination to carry out.

A driver manager I spoke to recently said he used to think that those who attempted suicide on the railway were selfish because of the number of people it affected. However, over the years he has come to understand a bit more what might drive someone to take their own life in this way.

A tragedy like this affects the person’s family and friends, the train driver, the signaller, staff and customers who may have witnessed the tragedy, the police and railway employees who are called to the scene, and the chaplain who offers a listening ear and support to all those people. And the effects are still felt months or years later.

Suicide on the railway is no respecter of age, gender, culture or religious background. It reflects the diverse world we live in and highlights the importance of reaching all of God’s people with the Gospel. A recent tragedy involved a young Muslim man and my first job as railway chaplain was to offer support to this man’s family. The family had requested my support, knowing that I was a Christian chaplain.

On a lighter note, a chaplain spends a large part of their time travelling. I frequently meet Christians up and down the lines and am able to point them to the Bible study I sometimes lead at Euston Station. I ask them how they find being a Christian and working on the railways, how they are doing in their prayer life, and whether they are getting to church regularly.

I meet people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are interested in my work, some are not. One day I met three different railway employees, all with the name Mohammed. They were all interested to find out what a chaplain does.

Quite often, particularly at the Bible study, I will meet people who have a faith but haven’t settled in a church for some reason. It is always lovely to see these people, but I always have at the back of my mind the view that, ideally, they should also be part of a church fellowship, so that they can experience all that a church can offer. Attendance at a weekly one-hour Bible study is not, in my opinion, sufficient to 'keep your fire lit'.

Part of my job is to support the officers of the British Transport Police. It is a great privilege to do this, and the police and railway staff are some of the most courageous people I have ever come across. They don’t become immune or hardened to tragedy. Rather, they learn how to cope.

For anyone thinking about a career in railway chaplaincy, I can tell you that the Lord is present in every single conversation, offer of support and prayer. You can use theology and apply it in practical ways. You will rely on your relationship with the Lord to carry you through difficult times and times of rejoicing. And you will use knowledge of different cultures on a daily basis.

PHOTO: RAILWAY MISSION

 

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