Secular Liturgies Network and Forum

Our mission is to enrich societies with secular ethics and reflective practices, informed by the latest research, and expressed in original creative, scholarly and journalistic publications and events. Our work has strong themes of well-being, sustainability, cultural enrichment and community building.

Pastoral Care

Dr Anastasia Somerville-Wong

Pastoral care and community leadership is an important focus for the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum. Here I describe the nonreligious/humanist pastoral care service, which I myself provide, and I explain the secular humanist world-view towards the bottom of the page. My work with the Secular Liturgies Network informs and develops my practice and vice versa. The Network also provides a platform for pastoral carers and community leaders and builders, from a variety of nonreligious, humanist and progressive backgrounds, to exchange knowledge and experience and communicate the benefits of their care with a wider audience.

I have considerable experience of providing pastoral care in higher education, child protection social work, youth and community work, hospitals, care homes and schools. I recently underwent further training in pastoral care with Humanists UK, a membership organisation of the Network for Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care in Health, and am an accredited member of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

I put each person’s values at the heart of my care in order to understand how they cope best with life’s challenges. It is a truly person-centred approach in which, through listening and providing feedback, I enable people to express their thoughts and feelings and to reflect on these in a safe, non-judgmental space. This helps them to gain perspective and to make sense of their situation. It empowers them when they are at their most vulnerable.

Other important aspects of this role include signposting, advocacy, community building, policy development, and the creation and leadership of appropriate rituals and events. I am keen to help organisations develop professional pastoral care provision that meets the needs of all persons, including those with nonreligious and minority world-views who currently do not currently have equal access to appropriate pastoral care.

My own world-view is secular and Humanist (see below), and I take inspiration from the insights and practices of many of the world’s faiths and philosophical traditions. However, I have worked for many years with people of a more orthodox persuasion from a variety of faith backgrounds. I am, therefore, able to provide pastoral and spiritual care for all persons with the utmost confidentiality and respect for their individual beliefs and values.

Pastoral care is primarily about listening and providing feedback in a safe, non-judgmental space. It has much in common with counselling, sharing many of the same techniques. However, counselling seeks to address a specific problem at an appointed time using talking therapies, which may or may not touch upon someone’s world-view. In contrast, pastoral care is about being alongside a person in their current circumstances, hearing and engaging with their emotions, beliefs, values and worldview. It may or may not address particular psychological issues.

While counselling involves fixed appointments and programmes of treatment, pastoral care often takes place in unplanned moments when we engage with employees, students, patients, soldiers and prison inmates in their own environments, either because we reach out to them or because they request to see us. The support provided by pastoral care has the potential to increase the general wellbeing and productivity of staff in all sectors, as well as students in education, reducing mental health related absenteeism, helping to fulfil the health and safety requirement to alleviate stress in the workplace and contributing to corporate social responsibility.

I am also a historian and social scientist with a special interest in belief and unbelief, and in the development of secular ethics, community, reflective practices, rituals, pastoral roles and comparative religion and philosophy. As Lead Researcher and Editor of the Secular Liturgies Network & Forum, my mission is to enrich societies with secular ethics and reflective practices, informed by the latest research, and expressed in original creative, scholarly and journalistic publications and events. Our work has strong themes of well-being, sustainability, cultural enrichment and community building. I have a Doctorate in religious and social history and historical theology from the University of Aberdeen and an MA(Hons) in philosophy and politics from the University of Edinburgh.

Since my doctorate, I have completed two postdoctoral fellowships at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, several research commissions for third sector organisations and an associate lectureship at the University of Aberdeen. As a result, I am an experienced mentor, speaker and workshop leader. The workshops I offer in my capacity as a pastoral carer are 90 minutes or 2 hours long, and titles include Spiritual Wellbeing in the Workplace, Helpful Rituals and Reflective Practices, Moods and Mindfulness, and Life Lessons from Faith and Philosophy.

I have provided pastoral care for students and staff in higher education environments for many years, both as member of academic staff and voluntarily as a committee member and leader of an organisation for international students and staff. For many years, I worked with students, staff and their families as a pastoral carer, mentor, events organiser, small group leader and speaker. I have also worked in child protection social work for Edinburgh City Council, as an assistant to a drama teacher in high schools and as a support worker with children and young people with disabilities and challenging behaviours.

Additionally, I have a wealth of pastoral care experience from when I identified as a Progressive Christian. For several years, I was a part-time youth and community worker and an assistant to local Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal ministers. This work involved the pastoral care of parishioners in the community and in hospitals, care homes and their own homes, as well as lay preaching and leadership of services and other events. I am also author of a book of progressive liturgies, poetry and mindfulness meditations, which I wrote at that time.

More information about the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, including the code of practice that I am bound to follow, can be found online at www.nrpsn.org.uk. The network provides me with CPD, including several training days per year, and I have access to regular supervision and a regional co-ordinator. Please do get in touch if you believe your colleagues, employees or service users would benefit from access to pastoral care, especially nonreligious and humanist pastoral care.

Any questions about the SLN&F or about nonreligious pastoral support? Email me at ana_wong@outlook.com

What is Humanism?

An Approach to Knowledge

  • We seek to understand ourselves and the universe, and to solve human problems, through the application of critical thinking, reason and science, without recourse to supernatural explanations. Importantly, our evidence-based approach to knowledge includes the qualitative, quantitative and empirical research methods used in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
  • We are skeptical of untested claims, while also being open to new ideas and departures in our thinking. We consider evidence which may go against our current beliefs and foster the humility required to do this. We are committed to overcoming our cognitive biases in a process of life-long learning.
  • Our view is that beliefs, ideologies, dogmas and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested against multiple sources of independent evidence. Our goal is to get as close to the objective truth as the evidence allows, and we take seriously our personal responsibility in this endeavour.

Living a Good Life

  • We seek personal growth, healing and development in character, wisdom, courage, empathy, kindness and compassion, through the use of reflective practices, both individual and collective, and through secular ethics, mentorship and access to pastoral care. Our experience is that by better understanding human nature and the nature of reality – by being more aware of our common frailties and interdependence – we naturally cultivate greater empathy and compassion for one another, and serve each other more willingly, contributing to increased mutual wellbeing.
  • Rather than looking for ‘the meaning of life’, we look to create meaning in life, through understanding ourselves, our culture, history and heritage, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the perspectives of those who are different from us. We seek self-actualisation and fulfilment for every individual and community through the nurturing and free expression of their talents and creativity. Our focus is to enjoy life in the here and now, to develop our abilities to the full and become the best and noblest versions of humanity. We increasingly celebrate the meaning we create for ourselves through life-cycle events, such as humanist naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals, and through annual, seasonal and other events.
  • Together, we study and develop secular ethics and best practice to achieve moral excellence. Ethics is our search for helpful individual, social and political principles of conduct, which are judged on their ability to enhance human well-being. Thus, we uphold common moral decencies such as fairness, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility. Our moral principles are tested by their consequences and we remain amenable to critical, rational guidance.

Building a Good Society

  • We seek to nurture democratic, open and pluralistic societies, which protect human rights (such as individual freedom and equality) from repressive majorities and authoritarian elites. We see humanity as one race or species, where each of us is an equal citizen of the universe, and where we are all responsible for one another’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet we live on. Therefore, we avoid harmful tribal ideologies, whether religious or political, which seek to separate us and pit us against one another.
  • We maintain respect for those with whom we disagree, cultivating the art of conversation, negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding. Our conviction is that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.
  • We are committed to the separation of the state from religious institutions so that no faith group, whether its world-view is religious or nonreligious, is given preferential treatment over another.
  • We are concerned with securing economic and social justice, and with eliminating discrimination, intolerance and inequality of opportunity. Our view is that a civilised society is a compassionate one, which supports the sick, disadvantaged and disabled so that they will be able to help themselves.
  • We are committed to building sustainable societies, rediscovering and respecting our place in nature, developing sustainable lifestyles, and minimising the harm we cause to nonhuman animals. We seek to restore and protect the earth, and to preserve it for future generations.
  • We are committed to building cohesive communities, which optimise our collective wellbeing and flourishing, and where loneliness is alleviated by human connection, socialisation, companionship, respectful relationships, humour, fun and friendship. Some of the ways we are doing this are through local networks and meetings, community leadership and advocacy, and secular humanist annual and seasonal events following a secular calendar.
  • We are committed to fostering diversity, knowledge exchange, cultural exchange, cultural enrichment and creativity. While celebrating distinctive cultures and diversity, we attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity or ability, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  • We respect the right to privacy, including the right of all adults to express their sexual preferences (where there is full mutual consent), exercise reproductive freedom, access comprehensive and informed health-care, fulfil their aspirations and die with dignity. While religious group rights are important, the fundamental inalienable rights of all human beings should trump religious group rights when there is a conflict between them.
  • We are working to ensure all children receive a moral education rooted in compassion and critical thinking skills, and which includes a critical and comparative approach to the world’s philosophical and religious traditions.