How would I become a non-religious pastoral carer?

We run weekend induction programmes throughout the year in various cities throughout the UK. Due to the nature of the course each cohort is limited to twelve.

In order to be accepted, all participants must complete an application form, a telephone interview, and be in receipt of two satisfactory references. Contact training@nrpsn.org.uk to request an application pack.

How would I get a volunteer non-religious pastoral carer to become part of my chaplaincy team?

Demand for our network members has grown significantly in recent years, and we regularly receive requests from chaplaincy managers looking for volunteers, or recommendations for paid substantive posts. If you are interested in either, please contact clare@nrpsn.org.uk and we will arrange for one of our accredited carers to come and meet with you.

I need help completing an equality analysis and want to ensure that our non-religious service users’ needs are met – can you help?

Public sector employers must consider the Public Sector Equality Duty for all functions of their service. The best way to do this is through an Equality Analysis or an Equality Impact Assessment. If you would like support in using either of these tools, please contact clare@nrpsn.org.uk.

I’m not a Humanist UK member, can I still train?


Training is open to all non-religious people who share the values of the network and wish to provide pastoral care. However, Humanists UK will cover the cost of the training for those who have been Humanist UK members for one year or more. For non Humanist UK members, the training fee is £225 and a £25 annual accreditation fee to be an NRPSN member.

Where do non-religious pastoral carers volunteer?

Our network members primarily provide support in hospitals, hospices, prisons, and universities. We also have increasing numbers moving into new settings, which include homeless charities, the emergency services, and the military.

How is this service different from religious chaplaincy?

Just as with religious chaplains, our network members are trained to provide pastoral and spiritual support to everyone, regardless of their religion or belief. Where we differ is in our ability to offer a likeminded service to the non-religious.

Our research tells us that at times of crisis people have a preference to speak to someone who shares their worldview. Whilst this might not always be the case, by presenting patients, prisoners, and students with a choice, it is more likely they can get the most appropriate support for them.

What sort of training do these non-religious pastoral carers have?

Our induction programme is meant to provide a basic introduction and assessment of the skills required to provide high quality pastoral care. Participants must complete a number of pre-course activities, two days of classroom learning, and several follow up post-course activities.

During The classroom learning, we considers the role of the non-religious pastoral carer in various settings via, skills development sessions, ethical awareness training, and skills practice exercises.

Once someone has become a network member, like all members, they are expected to engage with our ongoing CPD opportunities , and any additional training expected by the institution to which they apply to volunteer.

Why don’t you call yourself chaplains?

Chaplain is a Christian term and has been shown to act as a barrier for non-religious people accessing support. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Humanists UK confirmed that 93% of the British public believe this to be the case.

Many non-religious people who are offered the services of the chaplain have declined it, expecting the service to be wholly religious and irrelevant to them. Whilst other religious groups may have appropriated the term, we feel it imperative to communicate the nature of the service available to ensure that non-religious people can get the support they need.

How big is your network of non-religious pastoral carers?

At present, we have accredited over 250 non-religious pastoral carers over the last three years. Our members can now be seen in nearly 100 healthcare institutions, and are present in around 45% of acute NHS Trusts.

What are your endorsement procedures for pastoral carers/what does the NRPSN mean by ‘good standing’?

Before receiving NRPSN endorsement our members must:

1)      Complete a detailed application form

2)      Complete a telephone interview

3)      Provide two satisfactory references

4)      Complete our induction/assessment weekend

5)      Complete a reflective skills assessment

6)      Sign up to our Code of Conduct

What relation is the NRPSN to Humanists UK?

The NRPSN is the pastoral support arm of Humanists UK. Whilst the NRPSN has its own board, constitution, and quality assurance procedures, Humanists UK fund and administer the network. The NRPSN Operations Coordinator is also the Head of Humanist Care for Humanists UK.

Do I need to be non-religious to receive pastoral and/or spiritual support from a NRPSN member?


Our members are trained to support everyone regardless of their religion or belief.

How do your network members remain engaged, and what additional support do you provide after accreditation?

All newly accredited members are provided with the network handbook, which details the support on offer and additional ways to get involved. As well as regular updates and quarterly newsletters, all our members have access to ongoing formal CPD training, events, monthly supervision, coaching, social media groups, a resource hub, weekly vacancy information, and an opportunity to shape our strategic direction in our annual survey.

All network members also have the opportunity to access support from the full-time Head of Humanist Care and their regional coordinator.

What is the type of person you look for to join your network?

Whilst the majority of those who apply for our accreditation training tend to have a background in caring professions, our members come from all walks of life. What we look for during the application process, is a commitment to our network values, motivation, and a well- articulated non-religious lifestance. During our training, we assess against a strict competency model that is broken into three strands: pastoral support skills, ability to work as part of a multi-faith/belief chaplaincy team, and ability to work as part of a wider network of non-religious pastoral carers.

If you are an atheist, how is it possible that you don’t proselytise and try to covert people?

We take every precaution to ensure that our network members employ a person-centred approach during their interactions, whether on a hospital ward, a prison wing, or university campus. This topic is thoroughly discussed during our training and is explicitly mentioned in our Code of Conduct, which all our members sign up to.

What is the Existential and Humanist Pastoral Support MA?

From September 2017, in collaboration with the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, the first cohort of non-religious pastoral carers will begin this new MA programme. The MA is designed to prepare non-religious people for employment in a variety of settings. Not only will the programme result in all graduates being Humanist UK funeral, wedding, and baby naming celebrants, but the qualification is also recognised by the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy as acceptable for professional registration. Find out more here. 

Do you provide any clinical supervision for your network members?


On top of what is available in the institutions in which our members volunteer, we provide additional monthly group supervision sessions with a professional humanist pastoral carer.

I have a complaint about a member – what should I do?

Please contact Clare Elcombe Webber, Head of Humanist Care, at clare@nrpsn.org.uk , to register a formal or informal complaint about one of our members.

We have a very clear formal complaints procedure and a dedicated Quality Assurance Officer who will deal with your complaint.

What research is there to show the impact of your work?

The time limited and complementary nature of pastoral support presents many practical issues in measuring its impact. It is for this reason that research across the whole sector is very limited. In response to this issue, we have assembled a steering group of researchers to help us develop possible research questions, and carry out several studies to provide a more robust evidence base to increase the effectiveness of our delivery model.

What are you plans for the future?

We will continue to grow our network of dedicated carers, whilst at the same time providing increased opportunities for engagement. We aim to continue the professionalisation of the network by expanding our volunteer accreditation process into a modular based programme, which includes a placement and support from a dedicated mentor.

We will start to reach into new areas, as we seek funding for a ‘through the gate’ prison project that looks to support non-religious offenders as they journey back into the community. Additionally, we will continue to lay the foundations to introduce support for those in the military and other settings, where support for the non-religious is not the same for their religious counterparts.