First humanist head of a UK University’s chaplaincy, pastoral, and spiritual care team

17 February, 2023

James Croft has become the first humanist to be appointed to lead a chaplaincy, pastoral, and spiritual care team at a UK university. He has been appointed to the role of ‘University Chaplain and Lead Faith Advisor’ at the University of Sussex. Humanists UK has hailed his appointment as a landmark moment, and hopes that it will encourage other universities and institutions to embrace a more inclusive approach when it comes to providing person-centred care for students. James officially started his new role on 6 February.

Non-religious pastoral care is like-minded support that encompasses the emotional, moral, ethical, and existential aspects of life. It is grounded in a pragmatic, non-religious outlook and non-religious pastoral carers provide support to people in hospitals, hospices, prisons, universities, and hopefully soon the armed forces. As part of its support of the expanding Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, Humanists UK works to increase provision across all sectors, and in every part of the UK. It doesn’t use the word ‘chaplain’ to describe such practitioners, because many understand this to be a Christian-only term, instead preferring ‘non-religious pastoral carer’, but some humanists do have ‘chaplain’ in their job titles, reflecting the practice of their employers.

Though his title includes the words ‘Lead Faith Advisor’, James Croft is a humanist who has held many roles in the ethical societies movement in the United States. He was previously the Senior Leader at the Ethical Society of St Louis, one of the world’s largest humanist communities, and has a wealth of experience building communities that embrace people of all religions or beliefs. James also was an interdisciplinary researcher with a focus on the philosophy of Human Development and the role of the arts in learning, and completed his Master’s and Doctoral degrees at Harvard University, where he was also a Teaching Fellow.

Through its support of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, Humanists UK has enabled the training and accreditation of over 220 current pastoral carers, who are present in 10% of prisons and 30% of NHS Trusts in England and Wales. Most are volunteers but around 15 are staff. In 2018, humanist pastoral carer Lindsay de Wal (formerly van Dijk) became the first humanist appointed to lead a chaplaincy and pastoral care team in the NHS. And in January, the UK Government announced that it intends to launch a new Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum to replace His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)’s Chaplaincy Council, which will include humanists from the outset.

Speaking about his appointment, James Croft said:

‘I hope to embody an open, welcoming humanism in my work, and I look forward to working alongside the other chaplains at the University of Sussex to serve all our students and staff. I also hope to expand the diversity of our chaplaincy and pastoral care provision.’

Humanists UK’s Head of Humanist Care Clare Elcombe Webber said:

‘We are delighted that James has been appointed to such a senior role within the University of Sussex. It’s never been more important that everyone, regardless of religion or belief, is able to access like-minded pastoral care when they need it most. We hope his appointment will be a catalyst not only for other universities to embrace inclusion and diversity, but other public institutions such as the prison service and armed forces to do the same.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

James Croft has made this photo available for use by media, credit Logan Corry.

Read more about our provision of non-religious pastoral support.

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Read more about our campaigns work on chaplaincy and pastoral support.

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.