Currently we have volunteers operating in healthcare and prisons, and we are looking to expand this offering to the armed forces, universities and other places in need of non-religious pastoral care. We work with the key governing bodies of these institutions, currently NHS England and the National Offender Management Service, to increase equality and strengthen care provision at a strategic level.
Our work in prisons
Non-religious prisoners have a legal right to request and be provided with a non-religious pastoral carer in the same way that a religious prisoner has the legal right to see a chaplain of their religion.
Offenders have issues which are often designated as legal or health-related, but are often also in need of supplementary pastoral care, especially in cases involving bereavement or other personal difficulties.
Our pilot project in Winchester Prison involved working with prisoners with ‘nil’ religion on admission, holding discussion groups and providing bereavement support. The project was well received by both offenders and prison management, and is now a permanent aspect of pastoral care at Winchester.
Since the Winchester pilot many of our members have begun working at a number of different prisons (A-D category) across the UK. The support they provide the non-religious continues to be well received. As the service becomes more widely publicised, more requests for direct non-religious pastoral support are being received.
Our work in hospitals and hospices
Spending time in hospital, especially if you have a serious illness, can be a difficult experience both for patients, their friends, and family. Feeling a sense of loss, bereavement, and hopelessness is something that many people struggle with, regardless of their beliefs. As such, we recognise the need for holistic care, which involves tending to the pastoral or what some call the ‘spiritual’ needs of patients – an essential aspect of human well-being.
Given that between a quarter and half of the population have no religion, there is a clear need for more non-religious pastoral carers in health care. This provision has been largely overlooked, with the vast majority of support workers and volunteers being religious. While they can still visit non-religious patients, we believe that it is imperative the non-religious have access to care by those who share their beliefs during challenging periods in their lives.
Non-religious pastoral support therefore aims to provide non-religious patients, their friends,carers and family with access to care which reflects their worldview, by placing trained providers in hospitals and hospices.
The majority of our members currently work within the NHS delivering an invaluable service to the non-religious at some of the most challenging times in their lives
It is not uncommon for those serving in the military to deal with a range of difficult experiences and complex emotions, such as a sense of loss and bereavement.
Service personnel, both current and retired, therefore often want or need pastoral support when processing the reality of conflict zones, and the complications that come with returning home.
Given that it is currently estimated that between 25% and 51% of people in the UK are non-religious, it is of great importance to supply the armed forces with non-religious pastoral support. Non-religious care seeks to provide soldiers and other military personnel with support which echoes their beliefs and convictions, by putting trained, non-religious people in contact with those in need of pastoral care
There are significant pressures and personal difficulties associated with the move from home to university, with many students experiencing high levels of stress and other emotional hardships at some point while studying.
While many university students have access to counselling services, with additional pastoral support in the form of chaplaincy, there is often no non-religious alternative. Given that the proportion of young people who have no religion is estimated at around two thirds of the UK population, it is clear that a large proportion of students do not have the ability to seek non-religious pastoral support.
It is our goal to provide students, who are subject to prolonged periods of stress, with support appropriate to them, given the declining popularity of religion in this age group. As such, non-religious pastoral providers are indispensable components of the overall support plan of many students.