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Pioneering rail-terminus chaplaincy hits the buffers

14 March 2014

THE full-time railway-station chaplain at St Pancras in London has been made redundant, and the future of the post is in doubt.

The Revd Jonathan Barker, who was chaplain to St Pancras station in London for six years (Back Page Interview, 25 January 2013), said that he thought that the decision not to continue his contract with the diocese of London was a "mistake".

A number of staff and organisations working at St Pancras have spoken out in his support.

Mr Barker said last week: "Although the diocese of London feel through financial reasons that they have to retreat, to discard a job like this which has been hugely successful is a massive loss for future generations of where the Church should be."

Mr Barker said that he had built up good relationships with most of the 1600 staff at St Pancras.

"Through January, right up to my redundancy, I was being asked to compose and put back into work ten members of staff a day," he said.

A senior figure in the UK Border Force team at St Pancras, Simon Eglesfield, said in a letter to Mr Barker that he was invaluable.

"Some examples of this are the support and pastoral care you have provided to the large number of minors who have attempted to enter the country illegally," he said.

Besides helping to stop human trafficking, Mr Eglesfield wrote that Mr Barker had also supported distressed travellers who had been robbed or assaulted, and had been a "calming influence" on his staff after a "very traumatic incident" last year.

Mr Barker said that the station operator, Network Rail, or its owner, HS1, should step in to fund a chaplain at St Pancras if the diocese could not.

Network Rail has not offered to fund his post, however. A spokesman for the company said that he was unable to comment on the situation.

A spokesman for HS1 said: "While we appreciate the difficulty of Mr Barker's situation, this is an issue between an employer and the employee involved, and as such is for the diocese of London and Mr Barker to resolve."

A spokesman for the diocese said: "The King's Cross area of London is currently going through a substantial amount of change. As a consequence, the diocese is providing new ministry configured in exciting new ways to serve the whole area, which of course includes work at the station."

Mr Barker said that, without a chaplain, vulnerable and distressed travellers would have no one else to turn to but the police.

"What do [the police] do in those circumstances? It doesn't serve any purpose to throw people off the station, or to fine them, or to incarcerate them," he said.

One Network Rail employee at St Pancras said last week: "I think [Mr Barker's leaving] would leave a hole here. He's a lot of comfort, and staff go to him on a regular basis."

Another woman, who works for Eurostar, said: "Jonathan is someone you can rely on if you need support. To have him on the spot, you can resolve an issue easily, straight away." She also said she would have left Eurostar years ago had it not been for the support of Mr Barker.

"If he is not there we are going to miss our friend. If after six years we are losing that . . . we will be kind of lost here."

The Revd Malcolm Torry, who runs the Greenwich Peninsula chaplaincy, and wrote a book about workplace chaplaincy in 2010, said that it was a shame that Mr Barker's position was coming to an end.

"Around the country, a lot of posts are disappearing," he said. "London lost almost all of its paid workplace chaplains about 20 years ago. But one understands the financial difficulties dioceses are in.

"London has an economy bigger than most countries. What kind of care are we providing for people working in this massive economy?"

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