In Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), Chaplains are available for patients who would like their faith-based needs met during a health crisis.
While it can be an overused trope to include a definition in a written piece, I find it necessary to do so here. Let’s check in with Merriam-Webster to see what chaplain means.
Definition of chaplain1: a clergyman in charge of a chapel2: a clergyman officially attached to a branch of the military, to an institution, or to a family or court3: a person chosen to conduct religious exercises (as at a meeting of a club or society)4: a clergyman appointed to assist a bishop (as at a liturgical function)
What do all of those have in common? Religion. I mean, duh. Except I guess that wasn’t so apparent to the folks running the NHS, who have hired an atheist not only as a chaplain, but as head chaplain of the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust.
There are two other atheists amongst NHS chaplains, but Lindsay van Dijk is the first to lead a chaplaincy team. She told The Guardian “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.” and that “there has been no hostility” from other members of the team, all of whom are religious, only curiosity.
Carolyn Morrice, the trust’s chief nurse, told The Guardian “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individual choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.”
While they’ve had chaplains of varying religious backgrounds, which makes sense, this certainly does not. A chaplain and a counselor are not the same thing, and an atheist chaplain is simply a counselor.
Healthcare and spiritual care: just two more needs that the government shouldn’t be trying to meet. Here’s the inevitable outcome.