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New book on humanist pastoral care sent to every UK hospital, hospice, and prison

The new book Being There provides an accessible introduction to humanist pastoral care

A groundbreaking new practical introduction to non-religious pastoral care has been sent to over 1,300 hospitals, hospices, and prisons across the UK.

The new book, Being There: Responses in Humanist Pastoral Care, is by Joanna Mutlow. It is an accessible introduction to non-religious pastoral support, rooted in her practical experience providing care to people through some of life’s most challenging moments. It dispels myths and assumptions about the nature of pastoral support. It provides fascinating insights into the unique needs and motivations of non-religious people. It also explores the distinctive ways in which they find and make meaning in life.

The book was distributed to pastoral care and chaplaincy teams by the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN), the pastoral care arm of Humanists UK. The NRPSN trains and accredits pastoral carers to go into institutions to provide effective non-judgemental support for non-religious people. It hopes the book will lead to even greater uptake of non-religious pastoral carers across the sector.

Joanna Mutlow is a member of the NRPSN who works in Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust. She wrote the book during lockdown because she wanted to fill ‘a gap in the literature’ by offering a ‘toolkit of considered responses’ to the kinds of thorny questions pastoral carers encounter in their work. The responses ‘do not serve to describe one truth or to provide finite explanations, perspectives, or solutions,’ says Joanna, ‘but they convey something of the breadth and depth of humanist pastoral and spiritual care practice for those working and volunteering in such roles.’

Prior to the pandemic, members of the NRPSN were operating in over 40% of NHS trusts and one in five prisons. Pastoral carers were given key worker status during the national lockdown. This reflects the important role they play in supporting patients, families, and NHS staff. This was especially true when everyone was working at capacity as the coronavirus rocked hospitals. Prisoners and prison staff also acutely needed support at a time when family visits were suspended.

A foreword to the book was provided by the world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr Henry Marsh, who is also a patron of Humanists UK. Dr Henry Marsh wrote: 

‘Pastoral care based on religion – with its promise of forgiveness and life everlasting — has a lot going for it, but many of us now no longer have religious belief and can no longer find solace in its certainties and comforting stories.

‘Life is never easy and all of us, sooner or later, will have to negotiate crises in our lives — the end of relationships, the death of people we love, the approach of our own death, the consequences of terrible mistakes we might have made, injustice, mental and physical illness… The stories and reflections in this book show that humanist pastoral care can have much to offer.’

Author Joanna Mutlow

Commenting on her new book, author Joanna Mutlow said:

‘One of the great privileges of non-religious pastoral care is that people place their trust in me to provide a patient, non-judgemental, listening ear for them and their problems. I support them to think for themselves about their situations. Being There reflects what I’ve learned: not only how to help people in their darkest moments, but about the human condition as well.

‘Many non-religious people simply won’t access religious chaplaincy services. Everyone needs to feel confident that any responses to their circumstances and concerns will not be coloured by their pastoral carer’s own beliefs. The examples in this book are relevant to any care professional seeking to provide person-centred care.

‘Some chaplaincy services are sceptical about including non-religious colleagues in their teams. I hope that this book will encourage them to follow the many prisons and hospitals that already have done so. Those that have know the benefit that a diversity of beliefs brings to their service.’

Clare Elcombe Webber, Head of Humanist Care at Humanists UK, said:

‘At a time when chaplaincy and pastoral care departments in hospitals, hospices, and prisons are striving to be more inclusive, Being There offers team leaders a great introduction to what non-religious pastoral care is all about. I hope it will lead to an increased appreciation of non-religious pastoral support, and I’m delighted that we were able to send it to every hospital, hospice, and prison in the UK.’

Being There: Responses in Humanist Pastoral Support is available to buy on the Humanists UK website.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about the work of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

Learn more about the different kinds of training provided by Humanists UK.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

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