Historically overlooked: pastoral care for the non-religious

Historically, there has been a significant gap in the provision of non-religious pastoral support. The work of Humanist Care provides a necessary and much appreciated service to the non-religious at significant, and often challenging, times in their lives.

There is still a huge shortage of pastoral support for and by non-religious people in areas such as health care, prisons, and the armed forces. In contrast, there are thousands of religious volunteers and full-time equivalent chaplains employed by prisons and NHS hospitals, with the purpose of providing pastoral care for offenders and patients. Given that between 25% and 51% of the population identify as non-religious, and many more have non-religious beliefs, non-religious pastoral care is a service for which there is great demand.

Where we are today

Currently we have volunteers operating in hospitals, prisons, and the armed forces, and are looking to expand this offering to universities and other places in need of non-religious pastoral support.

Our pilot project with Humanist Care volunteers in Winchester Prison involved meeting with offenders with ‘nil’ religion on admission, holding discussion groups and providing other support. The project was well received by both inmates and prison management, and is now established on a permanent basis. Since that time, there has been a huge growth in the number of non-religious pastoral carers volunteering in different institutions, with as many as a quarter of acute NHS Trusts and a sixth of all prison chaplaincy teams now with an accredited network member on the team.

Successes such as this, along with the declining popularity of religion, provide the strong grounds necessary to develop similar projects, and deliver those services necessary for the overall well being of all – regardless of belief.