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On a Wing and a Prayer

While most of us think of airports as happy places where we fly off on holidays, they can also be places of stress and sadness – loved ones heading off to distant homes, the bereaved going on journeys they’d rather avoid, and people dealing not only with travel baggage, but the general baggage of life. This is where airport chaplains, like Barrow resident Alison Boston, can play a valuable and soothing role. Alison has been a member of East Midlands Airport chaplaincy team for three-and-a-half years and has helped passengers and staff with a variety of problems, from fear of flying to domestic troubles.

It’s a voluntary position and she spends one day a week at the airport. There are seven in the team, founded in 1999, and headed by the Reverend Roy Monks of Ibstock Baptist Church. They represent different Christian denominations, but representatives of other faiths are also on call should they be needed.

Of course it is hit-and-miss as to whether a chaplain will be in the right place at the right time when a passenger needs a helping hand or a listening ear, but Alison makes a point of approaching people who are sitting alone or are looking uneasy as they wait for their flights.

“I greet them and try to start a conversation,” she explains. “They may want to talk or be left alone. For nervous flyers, it can help to have someone to chat to and I have cards that give tips to nervous flyers. There are also those who are sad, perhaps newly-bereaved or saying goodbye to loved ones, and I am there to listen and comfort.”

A large part of Alison’s ministry is to staff and she visits various departments, building relationships. Other team members visit the airport hotel, Air Ambulance and flying school.

“I am always mindful that work comes first and some don’t have time to talk but I like to think that they will call on me should they need help. Life happens outside work and they bring their troubles to work too. Sometimes I offer a card with a verse on or offer to pray for them. Showing God’s love is what motivates me” Alison says if someone has shared with her she prays for them until she sees them again. Not all days flag up problems, however, and many chats with staff and passengers are purely social.

The chaplaincy team is also trained for emergencies and attend regular emergency response meetings. Fortunately there have been no disasters in recent times but the Kegworth Boeing 737 crash of 1989, which claimed 47 lives, is still in the memories of many airport staff and local residents. Remembrance services were held annually by the chaplaincy team until the 25th anniversary of the crash.

The airport prayer room, built in 2009, is open 24/7 and can be used by people of all faiths. Its main section is Christian, there is a section with prayer mats for Muslims, as well as separate washing facilities, and the room can also be used by those of no faith – it’s a peaceful space. The visitors’ book bears heart-warming comments on its pages and there is a box where people can leave prayer requests, which are prayed for every Wednesday.

Besides her chaplaincy duties, Alison also has two paid part-time jobs, working for a missionary organisation in Loughborough and The Light Project, a mission and evangelism project with a branch in Chester. She completed a three-year part-time foundation degree in Theology and Evangelism. She and her husband, Andy, have lived in Barrow since 1989 and have two children, Lydia Gardiner, 24, and Dominic, 22. She volunteers in Barrow library, is an active member of Barrow Baptist Church, enjoys Zumba, crossstitch and collects thimbles. All of which add up to a week with not much down time – but she wouldn’t have it any other way, she says.

Lindsay Ord