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Love for Broads inspires chaplain's mission

BriantSmith450The magical waterways of the Norfolk Broads are the parish of chaplain Rev Briant Smith where nature, art and spirituality come together. Sandie Shirley reports
Rev Briant Smith's (pictured right) visit to the Norfolk Broads when he was 13 inspired a long-lasting love affair with the area. Now, more than 50 years later, the former  biologist, who has retired from the Methodist circuit, is putting his unique stamp on the magical waterways that have become his 'parish'.
 
The part-time chaplain for the Broads ventured into new waters four years ago with a job that has fostered his love for nature, art and spirituality. The man, who was also a biology teacher for 25 years, is busy developing educational resources for school visits as well as running courses, walks and sailings on a unique trading wherry while being Vice President for Broads Tourism.
 
"A lot of what I do is about gently pushing doors and seeing what happens," explains Briant, as he builds relationships with tourists and those that work in the area, particularly businessmen.   
 
"There is a great deal to offer in terms of spiritual heritage," says the nature lover, who is at home amongst the waterways and river systems with their varied wildlife and village and urban communities. "The culture and history, with ancient religious buildings and other historic icons, continue to help individuals and groups with their ongoing personal development," he says.
 
"An increasing number of people are searching for spiritual meaning in their lives and part of their search involves a deeper appreciation of the natural world for spiritual exploration, growth and development," says Briant, whose findings are included in the five-year blueprint for the Broad's sustainable tourism.
 
Ongoing work is to seek to help visiting schools engage with 'mind-mapping' about the Broads through wildlife, environment, literacy and the weather for example and youngsters can also expand their understanding using websites.
 
The resources will initially be available for use by local schools, but Briant's dream is that they become a national resource. The subject   is close to his heart, after a dramatic awareness of the Creator through the wonders of creation.
  
"I had been at a boarding school from the age of 11 where matins and evensong were compulsory, but they did not help my spirituality," he said. "A few years after leaving, I was working on a farm on the Isle of Wight. As I looked out towards the sea and the surf and the white cliffs, I had to turn off the tractor as the view was so spectacular and if I had not prayed, I would have wept."
 
His course and resources for 'seekers and searchers' visiting the Broads allow them to leave the material world and wallow in the beauty through recreation. "It is about stopping, looking and immersing yourself in the moment and perhaps writing, taking a photograph or drawing and thinking, where is God in all this?" says Briant.
 
His Broadside series of photographs and meditations encourage further reflection while various Pilgrim trails are also available through the chaplaincy which was appointed by the East Anglia District of the Methodist Church.