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Andrea Smyth

Chaplain to London North

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

In the first of a new blog series, we shine the spotlight on members of our dedicated chaplaincy team and their invaluable work supporting rail staff on life's journey. Members of the team will share their motivations, daily responsibilities and the impact of their work across the rail industry.

The first to feature in our series is Andrea Smyth.

Andrea's area of responsibility covers North London, including various Tube lines and all London Overground, as well as lines stretching out towards Oxford, Banbury, Northampton, Bedford and the important task of supporting Eurostar staff.

What inspired you to become a railway chaplain?

I fell into railway chaplaincy, applying for the role as it sounded very interesting, but having little idea of how I would actually be spending my working day. When I look back, it shocks me that my relative complacency at the time may have caused me to miss out on this wonderful and fulfilling role!

How do you spend a typical day in the role?

Every day is different, but the things I do every day are talk to people, often with a cup of coffee involved. I will always come across someone new. Whenever I go somewhere to give support, other things always crop up too, that people want to talk about. I may encounter a staff member who is not very happy to meet me. But there will always be others who are. So, I never finish the day feeling discouraged. I remind myself that I often don’t know what experiences a person might have had with “religion” in the past, and for this reason I am careful about the religious content of what I say. I find it fulfilling to get to the end of the week and feel I might have helped someone. If I’ve had conversations about faith, those are very special.

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

Others may do things differently, but my own approach is to plan my weeks and months a little, and then be prepared for a lot of it to go out the window! I try to work flexible hours, as so many of our staff do. Recently I have been asked to attend events late into the night, but sometimes have to ask colleagues to help out with these. We work well as a team and we all cover for each other when necessary. It is very important to me that we all feel we can rely on each other. We bear each other’s burdens, we love and support each other. If we don’t look after ourselves and each other, how can we possibly properly look after our staff, who often have to work unsociable hours?

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?

My faith plays a simple but crucial part in my role. When I get on the train in the morning - I do my devotions for the day, and then I remind myself that my remit is to love God and love my neighbour, and I attempt to bring that belief into all that I do. At bible college, I learned about something called “friendship evangelism” – where we bring the Gospel to people through our whole being. I have had such interesting conversations with people of other faiths - and I enjoy looking for shared values we can agree on, whilst hopefully getting a bit about Jesus into the conversation. My main challenge is getting over the preconceptions people may have about the role of a chaplain. Sometimes staff will worry that we will preach to them or try to convert them – when, in actual fact, our primary desire is to meet people where they are at - and tailor our support accordingly.

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

Right at the beginning of my ministry, I found myself sitting in the back of a police car with a staff member who had just attended a very sad incident involving a family. The staff member wept - and I remember being grateful that it was dark because my eyes were welling up too. That is when I realised how important the role of railway chaplain is.

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

I’d like to encourage staff and families connected to the railways to remember that the railways have been around for a long time, through wars, crises, storms etc. Despite the issues on the network at the moment, the railway is going nowhere. The country needs its railway staff!

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

Please pray for us all, for resilience, courage, and perseverance. Please also donate if you are able. We are a small charity, but we punch way above our weight, due to the mix of skills and experience we have between us.

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