The National Secular Society (England) points out that the National Health Service pays out 23 million pounds (about $36 million dollars) annually for chaplaincies across the country.
This means that English taxpayers are footing the bill for religious services at “the equivalent cost of employing a 1000 new nurses.” Let that sink in for a moment.
As a former Chaplain I must say, the criticisms make all kinds of sense. Even some Chaplains get the issue:
Speaking on BBC radio, Rev. Paul Walker, leader of the chaplaincy team at Tees, Esk and Eear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said secularists had a “valid point with the decline in religious attendance” and admitted that the “vast majority” who called on his services as a chaplain were “not religious people”.
Rev’d Walker pointed out that chaplains were employed from “all religions” but said “when religious people come into hospital they tend to get their own support from their own vicars or ministers”. He said “when they’re not religious and suddenly feel the need of a chaplain, that’s when they call us”.
Those of us who have served as specifically Interfaith Chaplains see this problem all the time since most Chaplains indeed are NOT employed from all religions. As the article states, most of the Chaplains in England are Anglican (as most are conservative Christian in the U.S.).
Is this the future of Chaplaincy? Professionals, paid by their own groups, on-call for patients (or prisoners or military personnel) who specifically request their services? Then, the rest of us will never find out that we’re paying for prayer, for “mission-work” or proselytizing or faith healing or any other kind of “spiritual service” in our public institutions.
This may make the most sense for relevant, non-intrusive Chaplaincy.
And please, let’s not have Doctors and Nurses “praying over” patients in a public hospital! Medical care does not include a dose of sectarian “spiritual care.”