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How to Become a Chaplain (And What’s a Humanist)?

If you’re wondering how to become a chaplain, your thoughts may turn to religious ties or spirituality.

A chaplain is a spiritual representative often attached to a religious institution – they may or may not be certified or ordained to carry out their duties.

While traditionally, most chaplains identify with a religion, many represent various faiths or identify as humanist chaplains and act as a neutral spiritual resource. 

There are many chaplaincy courses to help you train to become a chaplain or to maintain your professional development as a chaplain.


What is a Humanist Chaplain? 

A humanist chaplain supports and cares for people lovingly without reference to or discussions about religion.


What Do Chaplains Do? 

If you’re considering how to become a chaplain, you should also think about the nature of the role, and what will be required.

As a chaplain, you will support people experiencing hardship, trauma or ill health and will be required to:


  • Listen with compassion and patience
  • Offer a safe space for people to share their experiences and feelings.
  • Help people work through difficult life circumstances.
  • Assist in times of crisis, such as ill-health and disasters


There are many chaplaincy courses that help chaplains to support those under their guidance and care, from youth work to alcohol and drug addiction and homelessness support.


What is Humanism?

Humanists Australia says humanism is an approach to life which focuses on living ethically and enjoying life, without the need to rely on supernatural or other extra-human sources of ethics and meaning. 

The worldwide humanist movement works to make the world a better place. 

Humanists believe everyone should live an ethical life caring for people, animals and the planet, without a need for religion. They also believe everyone has the right to enjoy their religion if it does not cause any harm.


My Spirituality – Humanist

Beth O’Brien, Founder of End of Life Planning, is a chaplain who identifies as a humanist.

“I welcome anyone’s faith, culture and beliefs as their human right to enjoy. 

“The Humanist Institute has an ethos that I find warm and succinct, ‘We envision a world in which every individual’s worth is respected, and human freedom and behaving responsibly are natural aspirations.

 “It is difficult in a few sentences to adequately explain where my thinking on this topic rests – I think it never rests when you are considering the beauty of the people and our world. 

“I have met, studied, and loved some amazing people over the years on their quest for ‘Is there a God?’ and of course, that is an individual endeavour for anyone to pursue. 

“What I do know is that there are elements in life that hold mystery and magic, and it’s up to all of us to endeavour to live well with ourselves and each other, as we travel through our lives,” says Ms O’Brien.


Working in Humanist Chaplaincy

Humanist chaplains work across many settings, including hospitals, hospices, in people’s homes, schools and organisations.

Ms O’Brien has worked as a volunteer Humanist Spiritual Care Team member at Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Hospital. 

“I continue to work in a humanistic pastoral care role with people who are at the end of their life living in the community.”

A career highlight for Ms O’Brien was working with a dying man who had been estranged from his family.

“I was working with a gentleman who was alone and dying because he had been disconnected from his children. 

“I helped him organise conversations of sorry and love, where his children came to see him and forgive him.”

Ms O’Brian decided to become a humanist chaplain to fill a need for those without religious ties in Australia. 

“I understood that many Australians are not religious, but many are spiritual, and those important conversations about life and death were not happening. 

“So, I was looking at a way of opening compassion in the community and reminding people that they can be spiritual or not, without religion.

“Our worldview encompasses everyone with no judgement. 

“We have very real down to earth conversations and focus on respect and love of the people we support,” said Ms O’Brian. 


How to Become a Chaplain – Chaplaincy Courses

There are many options to learn the knowledge and skills required in chaplaincy.

Chaplaincy courses offered online include the Certificate of Chaplaincy, Pastoral and Spiritual Care, which is a professional development program providing the knowledge and skills required to provide chaplaincy and pastoral care services.

On completion of this chaplaincy course, you may seek voluntary or paid work as part of a pastoral care team in a variety of settings, including hospitals, residential and aged-care facilities, community outreach centres and churches.


Professional Development for Chaplains 

Maintaining professional development is crucial in chaplaincy, particularly in community services and social welfare. 

Australian Online Courses offers the following online chaplaincy courses that may be helpful, professional development for chaplains.

Homelessness Support

Aged and Home Care

Certificate of Palliative Care

Certificate of Youth Work & Justice

Understanding Domestic Violence

Certificate of Addiction Support – Drugs and Alcohol

Certificate of Chronic Disease Support