By Jac Smith
Revd Tom Ebbens has just been appointed as full-time chaplain to Her Majesty’s Coastguard. A role so unique, Tom is the first person to take it on in its 200-year history.
Tom volunteered and then worked at an operational level for HM Coastguard since 2010, and this is a vision fulfilled. Having answered the call to ministry in 2017, Tom felt the pull of chaplaincy and set about trying to make it happen.
Pitching to an emergency service that spans the circumference of the UK
“I gave a dragons-den style presentation to the HQ in Southampton to create a multi-faith chaplaincy. Happily, they agreed to a pilot project.” The emergency service spans the full circumference of the UK, from the Isles of Scilly to Shetland, Belfast to Dover. So, with 3500 volunteers and 1500 staff, providing a meaningful chaplaincy service was a big ask.
But as is often said, if God is in the planning, plans will succeed. “I was very keen not to over reach and under deliver. But, over two years, demand grew as people became aware of what a chaplain could offer.” Tom laid down the ground work by reaching out to the Christian community, organising mid-week reflections. Eventually, people dialled into from as far away as Aberdeen and Stornoway. Supported by colleagues from Muslim and other faith communities, a steadily growing base was established.
The value of chaplaincy in for volunteers and staff of HM Coastguard
Living in Cornwall, we can perhaps more easily understand the pressures on everyone who volunteers or works for the Coastguard. But what about the those who are called out to missions on the crossings from France? Most especially today, when so many involve refugees. The situations our coastguards have to face can be harrowing.
“It’s true,” says Tom. “And they are a priority for me. With as many as 1200 refugees crossing in a day, it’s a really important focus for chaplaincy. Everyone needs support. From those taking emergency calls, often from refugees, to volunteers on the beach who deal with whoever and, potentially, whatever comes ashore.”