Chaplaincy at London's Heathrow Airport
Steve Buckeridge, Datchet, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
London Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. With 1,300 flights each day, it is a constant bustle of humanity. The numbers are huge: over 70 million passengers per year, around 140,000 staff, many ‘meeters and greeters’ dropping off or picking up passengers, and others who are passing through for hotels or transport links.
While some passengers are on a routine business trip or glad to be off on holiday, for many it is a time of heightened stress as they cope with unfamiliar surroundings, time pressures, jet lag and body clock changes. Some are travelling because of bereavement, and others are refugees fleeing conflict. Flights are sometimes disrupted, bags occasionally don’t arrive, passports or medication can be forgotten, and 34,000 items arrive in lost property each year. For a few of the local homeless, the airport is a warm place they hope they might be able to sleep for the night.
Beyond the human need there is also the spiritual. Wherever people are heading, they are also on life’s journey. Many are rushing – concerned for their arrival somewhere on earth without giving much thought to where they will be eternally.
There has been a chaplaincy team at Heathrow for several decades, with representatives from a range of religious backgrounds. Steve currently volunteers 1-2 days per week across the five terminals and Judi (his wife) expects to become more permanently involved in the work during 2015.
The work gives the following opportunities to serve the Lord:
Weekly Bible teaching
Each Wednesday lunchtime a group of staff from a variety of Christian backgrounds meets for prayer, fellowship and Bible study. This is often an excellent opportunity to give help from the scriptures, in keeping with 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 4 that ‘God would have all . . . to come unto the knowledge of the truth’.
The Lord Jesus ‘went about doing good’, Acts 10. 38, and Christians are to be ‘zealous of good works’, Titus 2. 14. There are endless opportunities to show someone the way, identify lost items, help with awkward baggage, be an extra pair of hands for those with children, and explain what to do next for the many who are unfamiliar with a large airport. This sometimes opens the door to conversations – with those helped, or, on other occasions, with those who have been watching.
The bereaved and suffering
Every day there are those flying to funerals, to be with dying relatives, or to receive medical treatment who can be shown sensitivity and care. People in these situations sometimes want to talk about eternal things.
Deaths and emergencies
There is always a chaplain on call to attend sudden deaths that take place during a flight or at the airport. Chaplains mingle with passengers and relatives on the rare occasions that major emergencies take place.
Staff facing redundancy, stressful situations, bereavement, or domestic crisis appreciate a caring conversation. With believers, who often find shift work interferes with regular fellowship, there is an opportunity to encourage them in their personal walk with God, and to discuss workplace issues from a biblical perspective.
Whether it is accompanying a missionary through the airport or a ‘coincidental’ meeting of a fellow believer, fellowship in Christ is always precious. ‘Let us not be weary in well doing . . . as we have therefore opportunity let us do good unto all men especially them of the household of faith’, Gal. 6. 10.
The following are a few examples of the above in practice.
- I spoke with a man by one of the various prayer rooms located around the airport who asked if he could take a New Testament with him to read on his long-haul flight.
- A young lady who was going abroad to do some charity work was noticed reading her Bible. She asked for help as to how to go about reading the Bible systematically.
- Having sat down in arrivals for a short rest, I was approached by a Christian – who had an hour to wait for a passenger they were meeting – asking for help in dealing with sin in their life.
- A lady asked to be prayed with as she journeyed to be with her dying mother.
- One bank holiday I met a man with a complicated domestic situation and a history of suicide attempts. He said, ‘I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t met you’. He was very grateful for a cup of tea and a Bible to read while arrangements were made for a homeless charity to collect him.
- A lady arriving off a long-haul flight, undertaken to say goodbye to a terminally ill aunt, received a phone call to say her father would not be collecting her as he had died. Time was spent with her while she informed relatives and made alternative travel arrangements. During a discussion on spiritual things, she remarked that a Christian in her workplace had recently said similar things.
The work is about being in the right place at the right time and saying the right thing – for which we are completely dependent on the Lord. Please pray that it would be for the lasting good of souls and for the glory of God. If anyone would like help, or hospitality, in connection with flying from or passing through Heathrow, Judi & Steve can be contacted on 07770 939478 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Steve has a diploma in occupational safety and is a member of two professional safety bodies. He spent 15 years in the aviation industry, mostly in safety management roles. He is married with four children and in fellowship in the Datchet assembly, Berkshire.