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The need for likeminded support

Watch humanist pastoral carers David Savage and Linsday van Dijk describe the need for likeminded pastoral support
About five or six years ago, pastoral care was provided by chaplains that is, religious people. They were not the only people who were providing pastoral care but certainly chaplain saw their main role as the provision of pastoral care, and in most institutions it was only religious people who were providing that care as part of what was called a chaplaincy department. This seemed to be problematic in some ways. First, that we found that people with non-religious beliefs wanted pastoral care but the vast majority wanted it provided by a person with non-religious beliefs in a likeminded way rather than by a religious person.
So to provide pastoral care for everybody and give people choice, we had to develop a network of non-religious pastoral carers. Chaplaincy has originally been seen as a Christian concept and it was and we need to accept that as well that we are the newcomers here in the UK, and we just want a seat at the table by offering that likeminded support. And by actually being compassionate and patient with our fellow colleagues of faith, we can actually work alongside each other to give a wholesome service of whatever worldview that person at that time may need in order to provide that.
But for instance, for my country, in the Netherlands, we’ve had humanist pastoral care since the 1950s, so it’s more settled there, it’s about, well, 60, 80 years ago so they actually had the time to integrate it. Here it’s emerged in the last 2-3 years, so it will still take some time to be normalised within society - but it will we just need to be very patient and compassionate, and just explain very normally why we want to do what we do.
In the beginning we faced a number of challenges, one was just to get the concept accepted at all, but one of the more significant problems was the recruitment into this area, particularly into paid posts, was limited to people with religious beliefs, and we wanted to set up training programmes and create the opportunity for non-religious people to also go in to pay posts and as part of a career. It’s very important to have that likeminded care within pastoral support - may that be of a faith but also of a specific non-religious view, or a humanist view. It’s about offering that choice to patients, to care users, and to have that likeminded person supporting you in times of need.
It’s mostly revolved around the worldview, the morals and values, and how you look at life, and to have that option to choose somebody that has that similar worldview is of crucial importance. The other day I went into the ward to see a patient who was on the list. She wasn’t there - she must’ve been doing tests somewhere else - and there was a lady in the next bed, and she smiled at me, I smiled at her, and we, and I said ‘I’m from the pastoral care department’. She pulled back and said ‘I’m not religious, I don’t want that, thank you.’
And I was able to say to her ‘well, I’m not religious either, I’m just a member of the team because there are lots of non-religious patients in the hospital’ and she started to talk. She’d been in the hospital for many weeks, she came from a different county. She’d had no visitors. She’d been in intensive care for a while, and had had a very difficult experience in hospital, and she wanted to talk.
And we talked for quite a long time, or I listened, and she was able to explore and articulate a lot of things that had gone on in her mind, in her my current situation, and she wouldn’t have done that if a non-religious pastoral care worker was not present - and I just wonder how many people there are like that in our hospitals, in our prisons, who do want to talk to somebody but not a religious chaplain. Who want to talk to somebody who’s non-religious, and surely we need to create that opportunity for them to do so.

David Savage was Humanists UK’s first Head of Pastoral Support and was the Chair of the Non-Religious Pastoral Care Network from 2016-2018. In 2014, he successfully completed a two-year training course in healthcare ‘chaplaincy’ at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, where he continues to provide non-religious pastoral care to patients and staff. He pioneered the development and provision of non-religious pastoral care in UK hospitals. He is the author of Non-Religious Pastoral Care: A Practical Guide.

Lindsay van Dijk is the head of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust’s Chaplaincy and Pastoral Support Team, the first non-religious person to manage a Chaplaincy and Pastoral Support team in the National Health Service. She obtained a BA and MA in humanist pastoral care at the University of Humanistic Studies (Netherlands) and is currently studying for a PhD in the spiritual and pastoral needs of children in hospital.

Research carried out by YouGov (2017) showed 69% of people (73% of non-religious people) think non-religious pastoral carers should be provided alongside religious chaplains in institutions like hospitals, prisons, and universities.

Question: How important is it to be able to talk to somebody who shares your worldview in times of need?

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Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

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