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Alan Thorpe

Chaplain to Bristol Temple Meads

Weston Super Mare

Railway Mission Chaplains: Supporting Rail Staff on Life's Journey

Now in retirement, Alan's area of responsibility covers Bristol Temple Meads to Weston Super Mare area, and chiefly ministering to Great Western Railway, Cross Country and Network Rail Staff.

What inspired you to become a railway chaplain? 

For 4 years I was Minister of a Railway Town (Eastleigh), and this is where I was introduced to the Railway Mission. As an Evangelist, the idea of meeting people on their territory has always appealed to me - meeting people ‘where the rubber hits the road’.

How do you spend a typical day in the role?

I’m not sure there is a typical day as such. Chaplaincy is a bit like a doctor’s surgery as you don’t know what you will encounter. On arrival at a station, I very often go to the front of the train to thank the driver. Invariably one of the platform staff will ‘want a chat’ - a serious concern or simply to let me know their football team won and mine didn’t! There are several ‘key’ offices I visit: Managers, Ticket Offices, and Police. Many times it is a case of a wave and a cheery ‘Hello,’ but very often staff will indicate, verbally or by body language, that they want a chat. These conversations are as far-reaching as ‘My dad’s just died’ to ‘Will you sign my passport please?’ The important thing is simply being there.

How do you tailor your chaplaincy work to the specific needs and challenges faced by railway employees?

An ‘old fashioned’ phrase applies: ‘Sanctified Common Sense”. Truth to tell, just being available to listen to people is what most staff require.

How does your faith play a role in the support you provide and how do you navigate the diversity of beliefs and backgrounds of the railway workers with whom you interact?

Whilst yes, there is much diversity of beliefs and backgrounds -  in one-on-one time the person I’m talking with or listening to is an individual, be they Office Junior, Managing Director, Shop Steward etc.

Can you share a memorable experience from your time as a chaplain?

A personally rewarding experience was receiving a thank-you card from a member of staff after I had officiated at her father-in-law’s funeral. Her final sentence was, ‘Of all the Ministers we have ever known, you are the most unlike one - You talk to us!!’ Perhaps the most spiritual answer is in helping a Station Manager commit her life to Christ while on the Yorkshire Pennines doing a Challenge Walk. 

What message or advice would you like to share with railway employees and their families who may be reading this blog post?

The railway is a family. Colleague support as well as company professional help is available. Don’t struggle alone.

Finally, how can people inside and outside the railway industry support the work of Railway Mission and chaplains like you?

The spiritual answer is ‘Pray’ and the practical answer is ‘Money.’ The realist answer is ‘Both.’

Keep an eye out for the next in our railway chaplain blog post series featuring Andrew Hall.