It’s good to talk, no strings attached, which is why I’m hoping that pastoral care will be the next big thing in well-being. Why? Because it has the potential to alleviate many of the difficulties we experience in modern life. It’s about human connection, spiritual growth and building community, and we all need more of those things!
Many people think pastoral care is only for the religious, only for children or only for those in crisis. It’s not. Increasingly, nonreligious pastoral carers are volunteering and being employed in hospitals, prisons, care homes, schools, universities and other places of work and study. Their numbers have increased rapidly over recent years in response to secularisation. Upwards of 50% of the UK population no longer has any religious affiliation. To meet growing demand, nonreligious pastoral support is becoming available throughout the UK. Practitioners are accredited with the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, which has a rigorous selection and training process.
So, what is nonreligious pastoral support and what can it do for you?
Nonreligious pastoral care is a truly person-centred approach to well-being, which uses ‘counselling-type’ conversation skills to enable you to express your innermost thoughts and feelings and to reflect on these in a safe, non-judgmental space. Your Pastoral Carer will help you to gain perspective and make sense of your current circumstances. She/he will enable you to develop, strengthen and reassess your values and goals. Pastoral care empowers people when they are at their most vulnerable but it also helps us to be more resilient when life is good.
While counselling seeks to address a specific problem during fixed appointments, pastoral care is about someone coming alongside you in your current state and situation, whether good or bad, to hear and engage with your feelings, beliefs and world-view in a more holistic sense. Our perspectives on life, death, meaning and purpose have more impact on our well-being than we might think. Indeed, the psychological therapies themselves are rooted in world-views. The growth in nonreligious pastoral care reflects an increasing awareness of this.
Your Pastoral Carer will be able to signpost you to other well-being services where appropriate and advocate for you when you are sick or otherwise unable to make your voice heard. She/he may have built community around shared secular values and interests. This may provide you with likeminded friends, and who knows, even a potential life partner! Your Pastoral Carer may lead reflective practices and rituals and may organise lectures, workshops and other events that you may find inspiring and enriching. If she/he is also a trained Celebrant, as many are, they may even be able to officiate for you at a family funeral, wedding or baby naming ceremony!
Nonreligious Pastoral Carers take inspiration from the insights and practices of a variety of the world’s philosophical and faith traditions, depending on their background, though the majority have a humanistic worldview in common. They work respectfully with religious chaplains in multi-faith centres, providing pastoral and spiritual care for all, with the utmost confidentiality and respect for each individual’s beliefs and values.
So, why not go and have a chat with your nearest Nonreligious Pastoral Carer (they may be called Humanist Chaplain within the institutions themselves!) and see if you connect? It may be the best well-being/lifestyle hack you perform this year! If you don’t have a Nonreligious Pastoral Carer at your workplace, why not ask your employer/institution to put out a job advertisement for one? You could even think about training to be one yourself!
Of course, if you identify with a faith, even if you are progressive-minded or no longer attending, you may prefer to seek pastoral care at your local church, mosque or temple, or from an appropriate faith chaplain.
More information about the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, including the code of practice that Nonreligious Pastoral Carers are bound to follow, can be found online at www.nrpsn.org.uk.