Humanists UK’s Clare Elcombe Webber elected chair of UK body for hospital chaplaincy and pastoral support

9 February, 2024

Pictured: Director of Humanist Care for Humanists UK, Clare Elcombe Webber

A humanist expert in non-religious pastoral care has been elected chair of an important network supporting chaplaincy and pastoral care in UK hospitals.

Clare Elcombe Webber, Director of Humanist Care for Humanists UK, was elected Chair of the Network for Pastoral, Spiritual, and Religious Care in Health, having previously served as its Vice Chair. The Network’s main purpose is to promote evidence-based best practice in healthcare. It sets out to include the voices of minority religions and beliefs, and to promote workforce diversity across the sector.

As Director of Humanist Care, Clare oversees two important care programmes for Humanists UK. The first is the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN), which trains and provides accredited non-religious pastoral carers in institutions like hospitals, prisons, universities and the armed forces. The second is Faith to Faithless, Humanists UK’s dedicated programme providing peer support, social connections, and asylum expertise to people who have left high-control religions.

Growth in humanist pastoral care

In recent years, non-religious pastoral care has made enormous strides, with humanists appointed to paid roles in 16 British hospitals, prisons, and universities, including senior leadership roles, in addition to 110 NRPSN members already working as volunteers. 

2023 was a year of exciting developments for this area of work.

In August, NHS England released new guidelines that mandate hospitals to guarantee equal provision of non-religious pastoral care in NHS hospitals, so that non-religious patients have the same access as religious people to tailored emotional support in times of acute distress and uncertainty. 

In October, the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) appointed an official humanist pastoral carer, giving members of the Senedd and parliamentary staff access to a non-religious alternative to Anglican chaplaincy for the first time in the Senedd’s history.

And in November, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that Humanists UK and the NRPSN had been authorised to appoint humanist pastoral carers to the army, navy, and air force, which the MoD would immediately begin recruiting for.

Commenting on her election, Clare Elcombe Webber said:

‘I am delighted to have been elected as Chair of this important network. It’s not just a personal honour but a reflection of the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the NRPSN and Humanist Care. It reflects the changing landscape of chaplaincy and pastoral care services in healthcare settings, which now need to offer inclusive support – including having humanist pastoral carers as part of chaplaincy teams. Through the NRPSN and as Chair of the Network, I’ll be working to promote best practice in equality and inclusion across the sector.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson added:

‘Clare’s appointment indicates the growing recognition and importance of non-religious pastoral care. It’s a tribute to the progress all humanists have made in making sure that those seeking pastoral support who identify as non-religious, are not overlooked. We are incredibly proud of Clare and the work of the NRPSN, and we look forward to seeing the positive changes this new leadership role will bring to the healthcare community.’

Notes

Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at press@humanists.uk or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about non-religious pastoral support.

Read more about the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

Read more about our campaigning on pastoral care and chaplaincy.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 120,000 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.

The ‘Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network’ (NRPSN) is Humanists UK’s network of accredited non-religious volunteers who provide pastoral support. The NRPSN comes under the umbrella of Humanist Care but has its own governance structures, objectives, and quality assurance procedures. The NRPSN was set up, developed, and constituted by Humanists UK in 2016 under the banner of Humanist Care. Membership of the NRPSN is not limited to humanists and is open to all those who hold a non-religious belief system that is consistent with a democratic society.