Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Humanist Pastoral Support - David Savage (BHA)

This was a talk given by David Savage at Greater Manchester Humanists on 8th October.

David started by describing the aim of Humanist Pastoral Support which is that non-religious people should have the same access to care as religious people. And that non-religious people should have the same opportunities to provide it. 
Accordingly, the BHA is currently in the process of identifying, training and accrediting humanist volunteers to provide pastoral support in prisons and hospitals.

David provided some charts showing that in hospitals:

  • Paid for pastoral support (by the NHS) is 100% undertaken by the major religions.
  • A significant proportion of NHS patients will be non religious (45% - using the social attitudes survey or 24% - using the 2011 census figures). 
  • 96% of chaplains’ visits are undertaken by religious chaplains. 
The point being, as David put it, that religious chaplains think they’re there for everyone, but the non-religious don’t want to talk to them.

David then went on to talk about his own experiences of being a hospital chaplain. He starts by walking around and telling people he’s from the spiritual care department. People will talk about anything, he has found; they often just need an opportunity to unload or complain. Even when he tells them he’s not religious they’re still happy to go on talking. The key, he says, is to listen, show empathy, and be seen as neutral and non judgemental. Some religious chaplains have said to him that you can’t talk to dying people because you don’t believe in the afterlife. His response is that when he talks to the terminally ill he gives the humanist perspective which is to focus on the life that’s left and what you can still do with it.

He briefly contrasted the difference between pastoral care and counselling. Counsellors he said have similar elements to their work and do a great job, but operate in a different way; they have to be referred to the patient by the medical team as part of a treatment plan. So they are addressing the needs of the individual from a health and well being perspective as opposed to a purely spiritual one.

He then described the training course that the BHA is starting to provide to volunteers around the country. The aim of the course is to give people an understanding of what humanist pastoral practice is; also to see if they are suitable for the job. And if so, to give them confidence to apply to an institution for a role as a chaplain (subject to BHA accredition). The two day course runs over a weekend and involves: role play, e.g. to talk about a loss, assessing people’s abilities, and understanding how to work cooperatively with religious chaplains.

David wound up by saying that he thinks humanist pastoral support is where humanist ceremonies were 25 years ago in that we (the BHA) are at the beginning of a journey, but we will help improve the care of non-religious people in hospitals and prisons, including providing non-religious people to provide that care.


Please note: David has now provisionally booked the St Thomas Centre in Manchester for 21-22 March 2015 for the two day course. Expect to hear more about this from us in future newsletters.

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