Chichester Humanists is a local branch of West Sussex Humanists and represents the interests of the non-religious residents in and around Chichester.

Each month we discuss issues concerning religion and belief, ethics, equality, human rights and science, including current events.

We liase with Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council on matters concerning equality of religion and belief, and monitor Council activities, including proposals for new "faith" schools.

We are keen to campaign on behalf of non-religious residents who feel disadvantaged because of their beliefs, e.g. access to a community school, discrimination at work or through the delivery of local services.

We organise events and displays, invite prominent speakers, and give talks to local organisations, including schools and colleges.

We meet once a month in Muchos Nachos140 Whyke Rd, Chichester PO19 8HT (tel: 01243 785 009)

Meetings are from 7.30pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Instead of membership subscriptions, there is a £3 entrance charge for meetings with speakers (usual concessions).

If you would like to meet some local freethinkers and have a chat, please come along and join us at the next meeting. Look out for the poster above.

For more details, email Julian.

Being freethinkers there are many things secular humanists will not agree on, but there are some matters on which we do take a firm and unanimous stand. We do not condone prejudice of any sort. Nor do we hate religious people. Such views are entirely contrary to any humanist philosophy and we reserve the right to exclude any person promoting them.

Rachel Bennett, Lead Chaplain for the NHS, talk at Chichester Humanists 16th Feb 2015


Rachel Bennett is the lead Chaplain for Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She is based in Worthing and was accompanied by Chichester NHS Chaplain Una Dalrymple. Rachel began her talk by asking us to recall our emotions when we were in hospital, either as a patient, friend or family member.

She asked who we felt able to to talk to, with responses such as a particular nurse or doctor, auzilliary staff (tea, cleaning), fellow patients, family and friends.


Rachel defined chaplaincy as spiritual support for patients, friends, relatives and staff, where spirituality refers to the mental and emotional nature of a person, which may or may not include religious beliefs.

She explained the history of chaplaincy in the NHS, especially why the Church of England runs the service. From its inception in the 1940s, chaplaincy was part of the constitution because of the amount of healthcare provided by religious organisations at the time. In the 2010 Equality Act, religion and belief was included as a protected characteristic that the NHS was obliged to incorporate. Locally, the NHS committee Diversity Matters meets regularly to ensure that equality guidelines are being followed. Rachel is the member responsible for religion and belief. She said that a chaplain must be a champion of diversity.

Rachel then described what an NHS chaplain does. Offering spiritual care to those challenged by illness or impending death by listening with compassion, without judgement, and helping them find their own answers. She explained further that 'spiritual' refers to love, faith, hope, trust, awe, things that inspire us, purpose and meaning, what makes us get up in the morning.

Rachel can call upon a number of other visitors who are more appropriate than herself or who have other skills.

Her help is sometimes in the context of a person's religious belief but at heart it is about personal meaning. Although she wears a collar, her role is not to promote religion. Rachel said that she had never been rejected by a patient. Her faith has given her the strength to listen to others day in day out for the last 7 years.

During the talk, members asked a number of questions.

Q: Are there Humanist visitors that Rachel can call on?
A: Rachel has never had any requests for a Humanist visitor. Also, she does not know of any. She asked if any of our members would be interested in this role.

Q: Can people who are not from the Church of England become chaplains?
A: A C of E minister has a duty of pastoral care for all residents in their parish, making them better able to minister to people of all faiths and none. The roles would be more difficult for a Catholic or Muslim as they cannot respond religiously to all people. However, in an area like Bradford, it makes sense to have Muslim chaplains. Some members thought that a secular chaplaincy would be preferred rather than the current system in view of the majority of the population being non-religious.

Q: Are you paid?
A: Yes. Rachel is full time but the other chaplains collectively work less than two full time equivalents. The advantage of a paid chaplain is that they must work within the strict guidelines of the NHS. The case of Jimmy Saville was raised.

Q: What training is involved?
A: There is a 5 day training course with ongoing training in areas such as end of life, child death. Rachel sits on a group that monitors pregnancy loss and another that monitors end of life strategy (making sure that people can die with dignity).

Q: Is the chaplain told when someone is dying so that they can visit them?
A: No. The chaplain must be requested by the patient or their family. Rachel related several stories, including her role in helping a family talk about their dying relative instead of sitting in an uncomfortable silence around the bed.

Q: What do you say when patients ask 'Why does God let this happen. It's not fair.'
A: Una said that people find it easier to blame something or someone. Rachel said that 'healing' is not always curative. People set themselves up to be disappointed by a narrow view of healing. She related a case where she spent 7 days with a dying woman, who was initially in denial. She was eventually discharged to a hospice. On arrival, she told the doctor 'I've come here to die in peace, pain free, with my family around me.' Rachel said that many people say they are not afraid of being dead but are afraid of dying. She asks them what they know about dying, which is usually from seeing violent and painful death in films. She explained that, in her experience, dying is usually peaceful and the moment of death almost imperceptible.

Q: What do you think about assisted dying?
A: Rachel said that it was not against her beliefs but that this was a subject for another discussion. [You can read a summary of a talk by John Kapp of Dignity in Dying]

This was a particularly moving talk, with quite a lot of time devoted to death and dying. We all acknowledged the difficulty of Rachel and Una's role and thanked them for discussing it in such a personal manner.

If any reader would like to volunteer as a Humanist visitor in a West Sussex hospital, please contact Rachel at or by ringing 01903 205111 Ext 84004.


Add comment

Anti-spam: complete the taskJoomla CAPTCHA
Coming Events
No events

Remembrance Sunday Campaign

The Chichester Observer made a video and wrote an article covering the laying of a Humanist wreath after the main religious ceremony. A transcript of the speech can be downloaded here.

Read more

Facebook Page
Facebook Group