The University of Westminster has broken new ground by appointing the UK’s first ever paid pastoral adviser for non-religious people. Isabel Millar, the university’s new Secular Adviser, comes to the university trained and accredited by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the UK’s national charity for non-religious people.
Universities have long employed chaplains and multi-faith advisers to provide like-minded emotional and spiritual support to students and employees with a religious background. However, Isabel Millar’s appointment is the first to address the fact that non-religious people are unlikely to accept emotional and ‘spiritual’ support from a religious adviser. Isabel’s appointment is also reflective of the rapidly changing demographics of Great Britain; roughly two thirds of university-age students report having no religion, and yet they experience all the same stresses and strains as their religious counterparts.
The appointment is part of a trend towards increased representation of the non-religious alongside chaplaincy services. Earlier this year, Jane Flint, also trained and accredited by the BHA, was appointed to the chaplaincy team at Leicester Hospitals as its first non-religious pastoral carer. The move followed Leicester’s own research, which showed overwhelming demand from its non-religious patients for like-minded care. This came after NHS England guidance published in May 2015 which stipulated that hospitals were obliged to provide distinctive pastoral care for their non-religious patients.
In a statement, the University of Westminster explained that Isabel’s role ‘was created in recognition of the growing importance placed on mutual understanding between people of all faiths and none, and our role as a multicultural university in encouraging dialogue and supporting our communities on and around campus.’ Her role is intended to provide ‘not only secular pastoral care for students, but also educational support at an academic and corporate level.’
Speaking on her appointment, Isabel said:
‘My new role as Secular Adviser at the University of Westminster is an absolutely thrilling development.
‘I will be advising from a secular humanist perspective in the context of a multi-faith and culturally diverse institution and providing a non-religious ethical reference point with regard to moral, social and cultural issues arising in the university.’
Since 2014, the BHA has trained just over 100 volunteer pastoral support workers, such as Isabel Millar and Jane Flint, who are accredited by the charity to go into hospitals, prisons, and armed forces settings on its behalf to ensure that non-religious people in these institutions have equal access to support services.
Commenting on Isabel’s appointment, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
‘Research shows that people benefit enormously from like-minded care and a listening ear at difficult times in their lives in terms of health outcomes, reoffending rates, and educational achievements.
‘Throughout hospitals, prisons, schools, and universities, religious chaplains work to support people at some of life’s most trying times, or in moments of emotional difficulty or moral uncertainty.
‘For a very long time, non-religious people haven’t been able to benefit in that same way from having a non-judgemental person to speak to who shares their outlook on the world. Appointments like Isabel’s at Westminster are to be celebrated, and we hope that more and more institutions will choose to follow their good example.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0773 843 5059.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
The British Humanist Association trains and accredits pastoral support volunteers for non-religious people through the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NPSN). For more information about this network, see: http://nrpsn.org.uk.
The University of Westminster’s Faith and Spirituality team, headed by Interfaith Adviser Yusuf Kaplan, has expanded to welcome Isabel Millar as Secular Adviser as well as David Morris, Assistant Interfaith Adviser.