News 2017 – Call for ‘spiritual health’ volunteers

11 Sep 2017

News – 11 September 2017

Call for ‘spiritual health’ volunteers

Photo of person contemplating sunset over mountainsLyndon Storey, president of Australian Humanists (CAHS) and Humanist chaplain at Canberra Hospital, was guest speaker at our last monthly member discussion meeting (13 August 2017). Agreeing with Mencius that being humane depended on empathy, he saw Humanism as a positive vision of life, springing from the human heart and well suited to healing social fragmentation. He appealed to Humanists to move beyond conversation to social action. He had put the committee in touch with Spiritual Health Victoria.

Spiritual Health Victoria has offered to give non-religious volunteers a short training course of five half days including a hospital session, finishing with a certificate, at a reasonable cost to Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV). Members are invited to take the course themselves or to recruit a friend. Naturally, you will need to be a very good listener. You could then register for work with a hospital or hospice or, if not, use the qualification to apply as a secular chaplain in a prison, army unit or educational institution. Please contact the HSV vice-president John Russell on (03) 9846 3989 or 0478 365 956 if you are interested. There are already some names on our list.

Humanist Society of Victoria could raise its profile by developing a community outreach that offers a meaningful Humanist service. (We already have members who, incidentally, are civil celebrants.) A possibility would be volunteer service to support non-religious patients in hospitals. In 2015 the British National Health Service required pastoral care to be provided to the non-religious, and the British Humanist Association set up Humanist Pastoral Support to do the training. On hearing that hospitals in Victoria are increasingly receptive to non-religious pastoral carers, HSV committee interviewed the registered training organization, Spiritual Health Victoria. We learned that ‘pastoral care’ has been phased out in favour of ‘spiritual care’ because the former is seen as particularly Christian.

Now, Humanists are pretty comfortable with a materialistic philosophy. But it is hard to banish the thought that human dignity, awareness, morals and even meaning itself are intangible ideas, which have been abstracted from their underlying metabolic processes. This is the immaterial realm of mood, intention, spirit.

The World Health Organization in 1984 called upon its member states to include in their health strategies a spiritual dimension in keeping with their social and cultural patterns. The Director General, Halfdan Mahler, justified the innovation without referring to other-worldly beings:

The spiritual dimension is understood to imply a phenomenon that is not material in nature, but belongs to the realm of ideas, beliefs, values and ethics that have arisen in the minds and conscience of human beings, particularly ennobling ideas. Ennobling ideas have given rise to health ideals which have led to a practical strategy for ‘Health for All’ that aims at attaining a goal that has both a material and nonmaterial component. … The spiritual dimension plays a great role in motivating people’s achievement in all aspects of life. (As reported by M H Khyat, ‘Spirituality in the definition of health: the World Health Organization’s point of view’, 1998.)

To find out more about the Spiritual Health Victoria training course or to register your interest, call John Russell now on (03) 9846 3989 or 0478 365 956 or email to if you are interested.

Report by Stephen Stuart