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.

Faith Network for Manchester (fn4m) on Forgiveness - Guy Otten

Thirteen people met at the fn4m (Faith Network for Manchester) premises in Ada House on 30th September. Six attending were in fact from the Baha’i community (including Grange Williams) also a member of the Multi-Belief Book Club (MBBC). Also attending were: two Muslims Qaisra Shahraz the novelist (also in the MBBC) and Kadija a young woman who is also a part-time administrator for fn4m; two Jews - Johnny Wineberg (Orthodox) and Warren Elfs (Reformed Rabbi); Bob Day and Andy Williams (Christian ministers) and me the only humanist.

The evening started in small groups sharing our belief’s perspective on forgiveness. For humanists I suggested forgiveness was a very human quality and phenomenon, but I recognised the encouragement given to it within religious practice.

There was mention of the reminder to confess or reflect on the need for forgiveness in daily or weekly religious services. For Muslims reference to Allah being compassionate and forgiving were all over their prayers. Qaisra admired the automatic readiness of people in the UK to say sorry, something she felt was lacking in some more hierarchical societies.
Johnny and Warren explained that the current Jewish New Year was leading to the day of Attonement when the idea was to ask everyone you might have wronged for forgiveness and then be forgiven also by God. [Ed - Sounds like Alcoholics Anonymous.]
As a former Catholic I talked about RC confession, which felt like a clean slate but did not stop you sinning again, and that this seemed to be true in every tradition. I felt the reference to God forgiving and the need to include god in the process was somewhat of a distraction. I drew attention to the usefulness of being able to forgive for our mental health. Religious folk saw this in terms of it being good for the soul.

The Baha’is saw forgiveness as a divine quality which humans as having something of God in them were able to use. One Baha’i attendee (a black man called ‘Godwill’) looked towards a world where God’s law prevailed, which for me raised the sharia and inquisition spectres.
Some harder cases were discussed, along with the interaction of justice and forgiveness, and the issue whether you should forgive someone who has not asked for it. One person spoke of her father who had been shot by a criminal and had then forgiven him, meaning the man was not executed, but the perpetrator then went onto commit more crimes. Another spoke of a lady in his congregation who had suffered serial sexual abuse many years ago and was struggling with the question of forgiveness. She had broken down in a recent service when Jesus’ command to forgive 70 times 7 times was mentioned.

I felt the dialogue was useful and interesting. Do we lack something in humanism by not thinking about this kind of need more?

Friday, 21 November 2014


Welcome to Greater Manchester Humanist Blog - a new venture!  We have a Facebook page (see "Contact" tab for details) that you can keep up to date with, but the blog format will give us space for longer articles.  Enjoy!