I joined the Liverpool Fire Brigade in 1968 세의 나이에 16. I transferred to North Wales, before eventually joining South Wales Fire and Rescue Service nearly three decades later. I was brought up in a Christian home; my father was a minister right here in the valleys. For a long time, I never wanted to be involved, formally. Eventually, I trained for the ministry, jointly leading a church, and missions in Uganda. On one such trip, I found my calling.
으로 2002, I was ready to retire from the day job. I handed in my notice, then had a call from the chief’s office. I was invited in for tea and biscuits and he asked if I’d consider staying on as the service chaplain. I left operational duty, but never the fire service.
We have a motto: “For all without exception.” It means we’re not bothered by who you are or what you believe, everyone will be cared for. The service has occupational health and HR, 물론이야, but we’re here to support people personally in the strictest of confidence. You can be uniformed or not; a retiree or family member. 에 관계없이, I never bring faith up, unless specifically asked. We don’t shove it down your throat: that’s the number one rule of the chaplaincy.
Some people I meet are going through marital or relationship struggles; others financial difficulties or workplace problems. 과, 물론이야, there are specific challenges our personnel face as a result of our jobs: post-traumatic stress disorder, grief and injury. Our men and women are prepared to put their own lives at risk for people they’ve never even met. That takes a remarkably pure love for humanity. It’s a privilege to be at their service.
I know the system inside out – the horrors and trauma, the joyfulness, too – because I’ve spent a professional lifetime inside it. I myself have had colleagues who’ve died on duty; friends who’ve lost their lives in fires, 너무. Each impacted and shaped me hugely; it’s how I relate to colleagues.
My phone is on 24 하루에 몇 시간. From time to time, I’ll get that 3am call. 사실로, crews have their own inbuilt coping strategy in the immediate aftermath of an incident – I’m not regularly asked down to the station. Often, I find it’s days or weeks later that people really need my support. Once the adrenaline has worn off and the team isn’t together.
It’s not all about the serious stuff. I make sure to be a constant presence. That way, relationships are built up over time – you can’t expect people to trust a total stranger.
I find support, when I need it, from my wife, chaplain networks and church community, but I can also turn to my fire service brothers and sisters. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and that’s special. I’ll never forget going into HQ one day when someone stopped me on the stairs and said, “Paul, you look like you’re having a rough time, let’s sit down for a chat and a coffee,” just as I would.
I came to Islam in my late teens and was very quickly accepted. 당연히, I found myself building bridges between the Muslim community and wider British society, convincing each that the other wasn’t out to get them. Chaplaincy felt like the obvious next step, and nearly 20 years ago I attended my first training course. Being a chaplain is similar to being an Imam, it’s just I can go to where the people are without being tied down to a mosque or specific location. In my time I’ve been the chaplain for hospitals and both Merseyside’s police and its High Sheriff.
More recently, I’ve turned to international humanitarian work, working with people in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Three weeks ago I was in Yemen; I’ll be heading to Syria this month, 다시. 과거에, I’ve worked in Iraq and Somalia. Right after Isis was expelled from the eastern side of Mosul, I was part of the first international NGO team to enter the city.
In situations like this, emergency projects are the focus: food and support; responding to health needs, both mental and physical. We never operate in an active conflict area and I’m lucky to work with organisations who look out for my safety and security.
I constantly remind myself I’m not a saviour arriving from the west – my faith and outlook makes it clear: I’m their servant. As a humanitarian I support anyone. Someone’s faith is immaterial. I may often be in Muslim-majority countries – that’s where many crises are – but we’ve worked with people of all faiths and backgrounds. I spent long periods in the Calais Jungle, and a lot if time with Ethiopian Christians. We don’t discriminate between the vulnerable: it’s a universal truth that the only victors in conflicts are the rich and powerful.
물론이야, people recognise I’m a Muslim and some I meet want religious counsel. 대개, this simply means sitting down to listen. Islamic tradition teaches us that smiling in the face of your brother is a form of charity. Often, the most important thing I can give is my time and attention.
I spend so much time with people living through the most difficult circumstances you can imagine, and yet I return to England knowing they’ve given me far more than I could ever give them. In the face of violence and starvation, displacement and death, I observe perseverance and patience; resilience and compassion. When I come home, I can’t help but feel a sense of contentment. That’s something, 나는 생각한다, we’re missing in our society. You might expect there to be a crisis of faith in the places I go, but honestly? I see the opposite.
Over here, when something goes wrong, people ask God: why me? I don’t hear this question when I’m in these places. Faith over there is of a different substance: God tests the ones he loves; his existence isn’t dependent only on good things happening to individuals. Even in the most tragic and trying of moments, when I ask someone how they are coping, they’ll say, ‘Alhamdulillah’, which means ‘Thank God’ in Arabic. I find that incredibly humbling.
후 35 years in the civil service I retired in 2012. Before then I’d done a bit of volunteering in my local hospitals. With more spare time, I began spending time working with people going through mental health hearings. At the time when they’re at their lowest, they need someone near them. My father was a religious man and faith had always been important to me.
I’m the National Coordinator for Sikh Chaplaincy, UK, and a lot of my work involves coordination across the country ensuring my colleagues have the support they need. I spend time working with local gurdwaras, and reassuring people that, despite the word “chaplain” having Christian connotations, I’m very much Sikh, thank you.
With patients, I certainly make sure their religious needs are met, but more often than not, the people who I visit don’t want to talk about faith or practice. Sikh or not, I’ll offer up my presence. Conversations can take any path, it’s part of what I enjoy. One day I might find myself discussing TV shows, the next I’m exploring the meaning of life with a very observant Muslim.
They often want reassurance that things will be OK, and if they won’t be, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sikhism teaches us there are five virtues which take us closer to God: truth, compassion, contentment, humility and love. I take these with me on every visit, as I hold your hand and ask what you need. If I’m caring for a Sikh person, we’ll recite prayers and read scripture.
Some days are difficult and, 물론이야, the patient is my priority. But at times, I do need to take a moment to compose myself. When I was a primary school pupil, my teacher – not a Sikh – taught me a prayer. It’s one I say regularly, and have taught to my children: “Thank you, 보수당 사령부에서 정치전략 논의, for all you give; life and love and strength to live.” I still turn to that regularly.
Through Covid we spent a lot of time on Zoom; not being a physical presence for patients was far from ideal. I did what I could, but I missed being face to face. You need that contact when serving those in need: the old and the isolated, the afraid and vulnerable. I’m certainly no doctor, but what us chaplains do in hospitals is also healing.
Prisons are inevitably challenging environments to live and work in. There’s an added layer of complication for me, being a humanist in a highly religious and sectarian Northern Ireland. I’m English originally, but have lived here for 15 연령. I find at times being an outsider works to my advantage.
I’ve been a practising vet for 30 years and happened to stumble across an advert from Humanists UK when they were looking for people to provide support to people from a non-religious perspective. After some training, I got to work in Maghaberry Prison, a high-security men’s facility near Lisburn.
The prison wasn’t set up for non-religious volunteers like me; unlike in England, we’re not part of the official chaplaincy service. That means no access to existing infrastructure or state-funded resources. 대신, we’ve had to work it all out ourselves, from the IT systems to directions. We’ve also got our work cut out educating people with what it is I can offer: “non-religious pastoral carer” is quite the mouthful.
I’ve met people guilty of murder, drug and sexual offences; those with a long list of past crimes, others locked up for their first conviction. Some pastoral carers choose not to know what it is the people they visit are guilty of. It’s a way, so they say, of creating an environment free from judgment. But I prefer to know someone’s history; it’s for my own protection. If I’m going to sustain a relationship with someone, I want to do so on open ground from the offset.
It’s not counselling that I do – I don’t grapple with people’s pasts; coaching, 그 동안에, feels more about the future. 대신, my role is about the present: walking alongside someone, briefly, and helping them stay upright and balanced.
Without the rigidity of a religious rule book to guide you, rationalising right and wrong – and understanding what my role might be – takes serious consideration. I’ve started studying for an MA in “existential and humanist pastoral care” to spend time questioning this properly. 결국, there are no set steps; no doctrine to obey. I may not believe in God, but I believe in humanity and redemption. I find meaning in life by connecting with others – in prisons that can prove hard for inmates. Many have few relationships and some have no contact with the outside world. So I try to be there instead. Person to person, I build connections.
I have conversations with people I’d never otherwise meet, about all sorts of unexpected topics. I wanted to challenge myself and my ideas. At first I was surprised at how quickly I could relate to the men I met. Stepping out of my middle-class bubble, I began to understand how and why people do what they do. The inequalities and circumstances beyond an individual’s control – the inevitability. There’s a reason why people do bad things, anyone can fall on hard times. Someone should always be there to support you. If prisons can serve any function, they have to be places of rehabilitation. Why not see, I’ve said to myself, if I can in some small way be part of that process.
As the pastoral and spiritual lead for Jewish Care (a health and social care charity) I support people from the moment they step foot in our homes: both residents and their families.
I arrived in England via the United States and Johannesburg, before settling in London. Not far from where I moved was a Jewish Care home. I decided to visit with my kids at the first opportunity. Kindness, 아무튼, is the greatest mitzvah [good deed] you can do in our religion. I made connections, and started going back week on week, voluntarily. A year or so later, I was asked to support the 800 residents across their homes permanently.
I advise on the bigger picture, but the majority of my work is one on one: for all involved, coming to a home can be a huge adjustment. Seeing a parent move to a residential setting can be tough; residents need to find a way to feel settled and independent. We have individuals from all affiliations and none in our homes; orthodox to entirely non-observant. In what I do, everyone is made to feel welcome.
A lot of my time is spent supporting people at the end of life – an incredibly important period. I try to offer emotional and spiritual support, providing guidance, where I can, from Jewish teaching. Judaism tells us that when a child is born, it arrives in the world pure and holy. At the time of someone passing, they transition back to the spiritual realm; in the world to come there’s reward for those who lived lives of generosity.
Often, I turn to song, and not just prayer but music. There’s a spirituality to sound; it helps people to reconnect with lost loved ones and their often distant childhoods. This can especially be true, I find, for people living with dementia.
Yesterday, I was about to leave a home but was stopped. “Rabbi,” a woman said, “my mum is dying.” We’d never met, but this daughter was struggling. I went upstairs and joined their family. We spoke for a while, about the purpose of life and how to face these moments calmly. They weren’t hugely religious, so I asked what might help. At their request, I sang a prayer from the festival of Yom Kippur as we stood by their mother’s bedside in her final moments. It brought them comfort.
From time to time, I have to go straight from a heartbreaking death to an event or meeting. That can be testing; the support of my colleagues and family is vital. But showing mercy, being charitable and showing up for people sits at the heart of what my Judaism means. You get through it.
My work is also about enriching life, injecting purpose and meaning when – , 다수를 위해, worlds are changing rapidly. To welcome in the Sabbath we have a service across all our homes; I organise activities around Jewish festivals and give educational talks when wanted. My greatest joy comes from celebrating Simchas: we have second Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and renewals of vows; there are celebrations for centenarians and blessings for newborn great-grandchildren.
Judaism is a way of life, far more than a religion. Some join us because they follow our customs and rituals strictly; others are mostly interested in the chicken soup. Wherever you stand, I’ll be there next to you.