Humanist funeral celebrants and pastoral carers continue work as ‘key workers’

25 March, 2020

Head Humanist Chaplain NHS, Lindsay van Dijik

Humanist pastoral carers working in hospitals, hospices, and prisons, along with humanist funeral celebrants, have been recognised as ‘key workers’ during the current crisis.

Humanist pastoral carers operate in 45% of NHS trusts in England and Wales providing non-religious pastoral care. They are highly trained individuals who provide a like-minded, listening ear to people at some of the most challenging times of their lives. Through the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, Humanists UK works to ensure that all people with non-religious beliefs have access to pastoral support.

During Covid-19, most chaplaincy/humanist pastoral care services are at full capacity in hospitals, providing bereavement support to patients in end-of-life care and to other patients who are not receiving regular visitors due to social distancing rules, and who are extremely anxious and scared about Coronavirus.

Currently, pastoral/chaplaincy services are being delivered differently across various institutions. Prisons are no longer allowing face-to-face pastoral care volunteering, and as technological options are not yet available, prisoners are missing out on this vital contact. Employed pastoral carers in hospitals and hospices are still working but in many settings, all volunteers are being stood down due to social distancing rules. Humanists UK is looking into alternative ways for pastoral carers to offer support to NHS and other front line staff.

Across the UK, humanist funeral celebrants are seeing an increased demand for their services due to Covid-19. Humanist celebrants conduct over 10,000 non-religious funerals every year in the UK. They are trying to be as flexible as possible and adapt their services to support bereaved families in extremely difficult circumstances. Humanists UK is helping its celebrants to conduct funerals digitally, for families who want this option, with many celebrants already reporting increased take-up of live-streaming.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘We thank and applaud the numerous humanist pastoral carers and funeral celebrants who are providing vital care, support, and compassion to non-religious people in this time of uncertainty and anxiety.

‘Non-religious patients and those staff in critical sectors may find a huge sense of comfort speaking to one of our pastoral carers who can listen to their fears, discuss the sense of loss they may be feeling, and anything else they may be dealing with. We are encouraging anyone who wants to keep volunteering to contact their institution and find out what remote opportunities are available. In the meantime we will continue to explore alternative ways of providing non-religious pastoral care to those who need it.’

Humanist pastoral carer Lindsay van Dijk, who leads a pastoral and spiritual care team at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust, said: ‘During these challenging times we are all working hard within our spiritual and pastoral care teams to ensure the best possible pastoral care is given to patients and families who need support. We’re supporting them by phone and combining forces with our wellbeing teams to help support our hard working staff. We will continue to respond to emergency call-outs to provide end-of-life care and offer contract funerals when required, in accordance with Government guidelines.

‘From my humanist perspective it is our social responsibility to follow government advice to practice social distancing, however difficult this may be. Regardless of how we all differ in background, social status, skin colour, nationality, gender or our belief systems, we all share our humanity. A virus does not discriminate and can affect any human being. Let this be a time when this crisis does not divide us, but helps us look across dogmatic borders to help our human race collectively.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more on funeral guidelines issued by Humanists UK this week.

Read more about the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.