A chaplain who's not above his station

ST PANCRAS International has become the first train station to be granted its own full time chaplain

Tan Parsons

ST PANCRAS International has become the first train station to be granted its own full time chaplain.

Reverend Jonathan Barker has been appointed to the role and is about to begin his chaplaincy at the station which reopened last month after a restoration project costing £800million.

He confesses to a long-standing interest in railways which made him an obvious candidate for the role, but he says it would be wrong to describe him as a 'train nut'.

He said: "I was interested in trains from a young age, but as I got older it became more about the rail networks and less about the trains. Before this role was created, any spiritual needs in a station were served by very small railway missions with ministers who don't live near the station where they are based.

"The idea with a chaplaincy is that you have someone who lives locally to the station full time.

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"It's for people - and that includes locals. You need to ask whether they have a stake in what's happening here.

"This isn't a normal station - it's about the future and building for the Olympics in 2012 and the regeneration of East London. But it isn't just about profit and loss - there has to be a moral account too and I'm part of that. The building itself is perfect for this - it's a beautiful station."

The reverend, who is originally from Lancaster, explained that the role was created by the local parish clergy who felt a sense of care and relationship to the station.

"This is a great way to communicate to people what the church is about," he said. "Travellers are pilgrims. They take with them the needs people have in pilgrimage - concerning life, love, death and so on. People dwell in railway stations more than they do in any other institutions that provide transport.

"We're starting with an interdenominational room for reflection. One part of the chaplaincy that's very important is the ability to sit back and listen to people. If you let them talk, quite often they'll answer their own questions."

On the question of why the station has a chaplain, rather than a rabbi or an imam, Rev Barker said the Church of England has taken an interest in the revamped station from the beginning.

"It's about creating a spiritual place where you can have dialogue between the faiths," he said. "You also have to acknowledge there will be people who are looking for something that don't necessarily have their own faith. It's important to assess the various needs of the different people visiting this building. The Christian message is one of equality and opportunity."

One of Rev Barker's first priorities is to learn French - to cater for the third of the station staff who are French. But he already speaks Italian. In his former years he ran for an Italian athletics club, clocking a personal best of 1 minute 51.9 seconds for the 800m and once he raced against Sebastian Coe.

He said: "People think I'm mad about trains but I'm actually more interested in sport. I'm a dedicated non-league football fan and my team is Chorley. They've just appointed a new manager and recently beat the top team in the league. That's the only downside of moving to London - my home team could be about to embark on a winning streak."

The reverend has worked widely in Europe and Bermuda and also spent a four month stint in Africa, visiting Namibia and Swaziland, two months in India and some time in Sri Lanka.

He said: "There are people in this station coming from various backgrounds and cultures - I've seen different representations of God for different ways of life on my travels. It could seem a tough task but I'm not daunted.