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Jonathan Barker is chaplain for St Pancras Station in London

LONDON/ENGLAND. Jonathan Barker is chaplain for St Pancras Station, a magnificent Victorian building and one of London’s main train stations. St Pancras Station is also known as the European gateway, with its high-speed train line running through the tunnel under the English Channel to Calais in France. The station is a frenzy of activity, 250,000 people come here every day.

An enormous task awaits the 56-year-old every day. Jonathan offers support to travellers who find themselves in situations of stress and emergency and is there for the staff of railway companies and the numerous stores in the station. His help is called for when people have committed suicide, a dispute has to be settled or underage refugees are picked up unaccompanied.

But often he just walks around the station letting his eyes wander. “A lot of times, I can spot when people are overly stressed”, explains Jonathan who is trained in psychological care, anger management and the like. One of his tasks is to regularly educate railway employees to deal with stressful situations inside of the station.

Jonathan’s job is funded by the Anglican London Diocese and his work place is inside the Network Rail office, the privately financed operator of the station. Five years ago, Jonathan has taken on “one of the best jobs in the Church”, as he likes to call it. “My work offers boundless opportunities. This is a place the Church should be in, in contact with people where they are.”

In England there are no facilities like for example the German Bahnhofsmission (railway mission) which has got about 300 full-time and 2.000 voluntary staff offering help for everybody in need in drop-in centres in 100 train stations around Germany. The church-run Bahnhofsmissionen support people while travelling, in urgent need and in existential situations of emergency like homelessness. In England the identically named railway mission takes care exclusively of the spiritual needs of the employees of the English railway companies. Whereas travel assistance is offered by the train companies. People in existential situations of emergency find help in drop-in centres outside of the station.

Jonathan pursues his work very discretely because St Pancras station is a privately run enterprise, a high-security place where everything is sparkling clean, runs smoothly and has to be economically efficient. This is also the reason why he hasn’t got voluntary staff and why people in need of support can’t come to see him in his office which is located in the high-security managerial offices of Network Rail. But then again he can make use of his extensive network. For a quiet talk with people in need of help he is free to use a table in one of the many cafés, free tea included. And if a return ticket is needed to sort out private problems, the railway companies will provide it.

Cooperating with the numerous parties involved in everyday station-life is an essential condition for Jonathan’s work. When walking around St Pancras he shakes a lot of hands and seems to know everybody – from the head of the cleaning personnel to the police on-site and the architect of the newly refurbished station. Another important part of his network are the places around the station offering long-term services for people in need like the homeless or people with psychological problems. Being a marathon runner helps Jonathan to move constantly between all these places and to do such a difficult and demanding job. Nevertheless, he says, that sometimes even he feels stretched to his limits. Like last spring when there was a downright flurry of suicides in the station.

Jonathan is convinced that his work can be a role model: “It is important that my church leaves behind its traditional ways to be present in places like this one. The church has to become a partner for the economy to get into contact with people, because they spend a lot of their time at work and travelling to work.” [Anne Kunzmann, Public Relations, Bahnhofsmission Germany,]

Article by: Christian Baron on 2014-04-02

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