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Meeting Preston’s railway vicar who spends life on the line

Posted on - 24th December, 2016 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - News, People
Reverend Richard Cook

Reverend Richard Cook

This Preston preacher has licence to travel during the Christmas period.

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Reverend Richard Cook is the railway chaplain for the North West and is always on the move.

He’s been riding the railways for 12 years to conduct services at stations in Manchester, Liverpool and further afield.

Rev Cook is part of the Railway Mission, a group of specially trained people who offer friendship and a listening ear to anyone connected to the UK’s railways.

If you’ve ever seen a remembrance service or carol concert taking place in a station, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Rev Cook inaction.

Rev Cook explains how Christmas is a tough time for many who have to work.

He said: “Christmas is a busy time on the railway but for many who work on the rail network Christmas isn’t such a great time; many are working over the Christmas period and miss out on the traditions that many of us enjoy. Christmas services and carol concerts at stations give back some of the feel good factor – not just for commuters but also for those who make sure the rail infrastructure keeps working when we need it most.”

Read more: Preston Bike Hub opens at city railway station

For Richard, the railway is in his blood, starting out in 1978 and working right up until 2004 when a leg injury spelled the end of his career. He had studied theology at London Bible College and in 2001 was ordained in the Fellowship of Evangelical Ministries. When he came to the crossroads in his life he believes God was waiting with another plan.

He said: “It was one of those times in life, when you really are at a crossroads, filled with uncertainty about the future; the railway was all I’d known and there I was, without a plan and ready to take a leap of faith.

“On 4th June 2004 I finished my career as a train guard and the next day I began my new vocation as a railway chaplain, little did I know that it was all part of God’s grand plan.”

Remembrance service to the Preston Pals

Remembrance service to the Preston Pals

A significant part of Rev Richard’s role on the railway is comforting bereaved families who have lost loved ones on the railway, being there for them he insists is a ‘great privilege’.

He said: “Sometimes it’s all about sitting in silence with the person and just listening when they feel like speaking. I’ve always believed that it’s just the odd word you need to say to let them know you’re there. We are here to say it’s ok to hurt – it hurts because you’re human.”

Read more: Remembrance service to the Preston Pals

But he’s also there for the transport police officers, the train drivers, the guards, anyone traumatised by what they have witnessed or who needs that shoulder to cry on in a time of great difficulty.

In 2007, he was a pivotal source of comfort and support for those involved in the Greyrigg train derailment in Cumbria which claimed one life and left many injured.

Last year he was highly commended in the Chief Constable’s commendation community engagement of the year category for ‘his very human interaction between the pastoral community of the railway network and the next of kin left coping with the most acute personal tragedy.’

Day to day most of Rev Richard’s time is spent visiting every manned station, rail depot and BTP station in the region (his parish as he refers to it) where he connects with his parishioners.

He says: “Sometimes, it’s a kind of therapy for staff and officers if they feel they can talk about something they otherwise might not have shared, other times we might just have a catch up over a brew; I’m guided by whatever they need from me.

“My life as a rail chaplain is a blessing – my only regret is not coming to it sooner, I enjoy it that much – I genuinely feel it is a privilege.”

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