An Offshore Parish
Published on 19 July, 2017
The Rev Gordon Craig is a Church of Scotland minister but his parish is a bit different from the norm.
For it is largely to be found in the North Sea – one of the most unhospitable and dangerous environments on earth.
His flock? The hardy men and women who work in the UK’s oil and gas sector, both on and offshore.
The UK Oil and Gas Chaplaincy role was officially established by the industry following the Piper Alpha offshore disaster in 1988, which claimed the lives of 167 people.
Mr Craig, a former RAF chaplain who is based in Aberdeen, provides an insight into his unique role - ecumenical in nature - to support people of all faiths and none.
“If possible two trips a month and depending on the frequency of helicopter flights these trips last between two and four days.
“Every trip is different but I aim to brief the entire crew on the role of the Chaplaincy as soon as practical.
“In particular I inform them of the work of the Oil Chaplaincy Trust Fund.
“This fund provides financial support to UK oil and gas industry workers, past and present, and their direct dependents, who find themselves in a position of hardship through no fault of their own.
Mr Craig supports people the families of people who have died at work.
“The hardest part of this ministry is supporting people in their loss,” he said.
“Like chaplaincy in any field the work means you are ministering to people of a working age who are not meant to die.”
Mr Craig, who is also convener of the Church of Scotland Committee on Chaplains to HM Forces, said the vast majority of offshore deaths occur as a result of natural causes.
“This doesn’t make these tragedies any easier for the families to cope with,” he added.
“At the beginning of the shift they have said goodbye to their loved one in the full expectation that they will be returning soon.
“Every offshore death is sudden and unexpected and brings with it all the issues surrounding such loss.
“Crews are very tight knit and any offshore death sends ripples through the entire crew.
“Every now and again I make an unscheduled offshore visit to conduct an Act of Remembrance to allow a crew to honour one of their own who has passed away.
“The offshore workforce is a close knit community and when someone dies it has a huge effect on their colleagues.”
Mr Craig said conducting an Act of Remembrance can be extremely beneficial to all on-board.
“The Chaplaincy also maintains the industry’s Book of Remembrance and the names of all who die offshore are recorded in the book,” he added.
“I often make home visits to families across the UK to allow them to view their loved one’s details.
“The book is updated once a year, in time for the industry’s annual Service of Remembrance on the first Saturday of November.
“During many months of the year, I find myself conducting memorial services commemorating tragic events in the life of the industry.
“Families travel to Aberdeen to remember loved ones and we hold services in the Kirk of St Nicholas on Union St, the church which houses the ‘Oil Chapel’ containing our Book of Remembrance.”
Mr Craig, who has never been a parish minister, said the best part of the job is meeting the people who work in the industry.
“There is a strong camaraderie among the offshore workforce and their sense of humour is brilliant,” he added.
“It feels very similar to the camaraderie I experienced in the RAF.”
The minister, who has served at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, said there was no typical working week for an oil and gas industry chaplain.
“Every offshore visit is unique, every pastoral situation is different,” he added.
“Because my ‘parish’ is the UK I can literally find myself in Southampton on one day and Inverness the next.
“Many of the offshore workforce live in the Teeside region so I have got to know the Newcastle area quite well.
“I fly offshore from Aberdeen, Shetland, Norwich and Blackpool so I spend a lot of time in the car – around 35000 miles every year.
“I am based where the oil companies are based - Aberdeen - but the offshore workforce live in all four corners of the UK.”