Railway Mission Chaplains: Supporting Rail Staff on Life's Journey
In this 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.
Next to feature in our series is Andrew Hall.
Andrew’s main area of operation as a Railway Mission chaplain is the West Midlands; bounded by Shrewsbury, Hereford, Worcester, Banbury, Rugby and Wolverhampton, and based out of his office at Birmingham New Street. He is also one of the two Area Managers for Railway Mission, looking after all the chaplains between Cardiff and Aberdeen.
What inspired you to become a railway chaplain?
‘Inspired’ seems to be a big word for it. I had been in Christian leadership roles for many years alongside full-time employment in the IT industry. My role there was largely airline-related but there had been some cross-over with the rail industry. On exiting IT, I was looking for a fresh direction and to do something more person-centric.
How do you spend a typical day in the role?
After the best part of 16 years, I am still awaiting a typical day. When I first started, I used to make lots of appointments for the month and then spend most of my time working around cancelled appointments. I now find it much better to have fewer appointments and the ability to respond as the need arises. Over the years I have been in support situations with people from all levels of the industry, from our local station cleaners at New Street to our Chief Superintendent BTP and a high-ranking officer who is now Chief Constable of another force. I have worked with train crew, station staff, and Network Rail staff, in many disciplines across the railway, and with top Executives of many rail companies. This is one of the joys of the role. A typical day may encompass a pick of the above.
How do you tailor your chaplaincy work to the specific needs and challenges faced by railway employees?
I think it is important to be genuine but also to be sensitive to those you encounter. To this end, I try to meet people in an environment where they are comfortable. Many people have real burdens to share and they need to have their feelings and privacy respected. I have a living faith but am not ‘churchy’ at all. I will often quote from literature, media or popular songs rather than scripture if it seems more appropriate. I do have to confess, though, that I have absolutely no time for the football sickness that grips the nation generally and have to feign interest at times.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, I think that as a chaplain, I should be genuine and authentic – most of the people I encounter can spot fakery from miles away; so can I. We are working in their environment, we are the guests. This should engender respect and tolerance but also basic friendliness, good humour and a genuine love for all those we encounter. I have not encountered much in the way of negative response from anyone on the railway, whatever their background or culture. I believe that if we walk in the Way of Christ, Christ will be seen in us.
When someone says to me, ‘Don’t bother about me, I’m not religious.’, I usually respond with something like ‘Thank goodness for that, nor am I’. This is not a cliché, for me, it is the truth. This often invites the slightly surprised person to ask what I mean; I do not consider Christianity to be a religion, but a living relationship with Jesus.
I have a good relationship with many people of other faiths on the network and have worked with many on issues of faith in the workplace.
Can you share a memorable experience from your time as a chaplain?
I tried to deliver a Railway Mission calendar to one lady. I had been warned by someone not to go and see her as she ‘hated Christians’. I offered her the calendar, which she initially refused but then suggested that as her husband was a ‘train spotter’, he might like one. Then she offered me a cup of tea and the conversation continued. At one point, she said to me that she couldn’t stand the Bible, it was a load of rubbish, all that stupid language! I probed a little and discovered that she equated the Bible with Shakespeare. At school, which had been many decades before, she couldn’t handle the language when they were reading Shakespeare and had been made fun of and belittled by pupils and teachers alike. I told her that, in fact, there were versions in English, and would she like one?
She threw her arms round my neck and said, ‘I would love one’. I duly took one to her, and she read it up until the day she retired.
At the other end of the scale, I, together with a small number of other chaplains, attended Manchester Arena, following the bomb and Grenfell Tower. We were there to support the BTP teams who were working on recovery. At Grenfell, particularly, one officer I spent time with was willing to share about all the other situations where he had fulfilled that role. He never once mentioned the Tower despite the fact that we were sitting on a wall at the base of it. When I saw him back in a normal environment a few weeks later, he took me to one side and thanked me for everything I did that enabled him to do what he had to do at that time. In reality, all I did was listen (and pray, of course) but he had found that to be an enormous help during those very difficult days.
I attended a disciplinary hearing with one gentleman. I was not allowed to speak, but be there as moral support. As the hearing continued, it was obvious that he had made a mistake and there was no alternative but for him to be dismissed. Although there was nothing I could do, and he knew he was in the wrong, he thanked me for ‘being there’. Often we are just there, being with someone who is in difficulty or pain or someone who has been bereaved. Presence is worth its weight in gold, or at least in coffee.
What message or advice would you like to share with railway employees and their families who may be reading this blog post?
The railway chaplains are here for you. If you or a loved one could use some help or support with something then please get in touch. A colleague was really grateful that I took the time to listen to her as she worried about scattering her Mother’s ashes. I was able to offer some suggestions and advice. I even offered to go with them, if they wished. This enabled her to press forward and perform the task in a way she felt was befitting of her Mother and family members.
Finally, how can people inside and outside the railway industry support the work of Railway Mission and chaplains like you?
As chaplains on the railway, we need the encouragement and prayers of other people. Funds, of course, are always an issue. Between us, we achieved a great amount, but if we could increase the number of chaplains, we could do so much more.
Keep an eye out for the next in our railway chaplain blog post series.
Railway Mission is a registered charity in England and Wales (1128024) and in Scotland (SC045897). A company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales (06519565)
Rugby Railway Station