An open mind and a genuine interest in helping people are essential qualities for working as a chaplain
Chaplains are people of faith or philosophical beliefs who offer spiritual, pastoral and, where appropriate, religious support to those in need in a range of secular organisations.
You will provide support, guidance and practical help to people both with and without faith, often during times of crisis or personal difficultly, such as:
- anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions
- emotional issues
- relationship problems.
Many chaplains in large organisations work as part of a full chaplaincy team that covers a range of faiths, known as a multi-faith chaplaincy. Larger teams are often found in hospitals, universities and prisons.
Humanists and other non-religious people working in chaplaincies are usually known as pastoral support workers or pastoral carers.
Types of chaplaincy work
Chaplains work in a range of settings, including:
- hospitals and other health and social care establishments, such as residential care and hospices
- universities, schools and colleges
- the police service
- sports organisations, especially with football, cricket and rugby teams
- industry - for example, a number of very large companies employ chaplains
- community-based work, including community churches as well as commercial sites such as airports
- the armed forces.
Typical work activities vary depending on the organisation you work for. For example, in a hospital you would be working with individuals who may be seriously ill or dying and will also provide support to their relatives and carers.
However, as a chaplain, you'll typically need to:
- provide religious support and opportunities for worship to individuals with faith, particularly where they are unable to attend their usual place of worship (due to being in prison or hospital, for example)
- plan and lead worship, prayer and other faith specific meetings
- provide counselling, spiritual and pastoral support on a one-to-one basis to individuals of different faiths and no faith
- where applicable, provide advice, spiritual and emotional support to families, relatives, friends and carers (for example, to the families of armed services personnel or to the relatives of those in hospital or hospices)
- provide spiritual and pastoral support to staff in secular organisations such as prisons, hospitals and universities
- collaborate closely in multi-faith chaplaincies with chaplains from other faiths and beliefs
- build links with, and make referrals to, relevant local agencies and community faith leaders that can help, for example when prisoners are released or individuals sent home from hospital
- respond quickly, but safely, in situations where safeguarding issues might arise
- undertake administrative tasks, keep accurate records, collect and analyse data, and write reports
- contribute to the development of your organisation's policies, practices and procedures in terms of religious, spiritual and pastoral care in order to improve the service
- work within an environment governed by standards of conduct and behaviour
- with experience, contribute to the training of chaplains, volunteers and staff, and provide mentoring and personal support to other chaplains and chaplaincy volunteers
- ensure that you take time to maintain and develop your own spiritual wellbeing.
Salaries vary depending upon the size and type of the employing institution. For example, salaries for NHS, army, hospital, prison and university chaplains usually follow set pay scales, whereas community chaplains may work part time and only receive the minimum wage or expenses.
- Salaries for chaplains working in the NHS typically start at £27,055, Band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change pay rates. As a chaplain team leader, your salary could rise to between £33,706 (Band 6) and £47,672 (Band 7).
- Salaries for assistant chaplains in universities are around £30,000 rising to £40,000 to £50,000 for more experienced chaplains.
- Prison service chaplains can earn around £27,697 to £31,176, rising to between £32,405 to £36,476 for experienced chaplains.
- Salaries for chaplains in the Armed Forces who have completed their training start at around £50,000 (Armed Forces Pay Review Body).
- Salaries in small-scale, not-for-profit organisations, such as community chaplaincy, are lower.
Some chaplains are employed on a voluntary basis and some work part time, which might include working in another paid role. Many police chaplains, for example, are volunteers.
You'll typically work a 37.5 hour week. This may include evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays as part of a rota system, for example if you work in a healthcare or prison service setting.
There are some opportunities for part-time work, job sharing and flexible working.
What to expect
- You will typically have an office, as well as working in either a multi-faith room, prayer room or chapel. Chaplains working in hospitals will also need to visit wards to see patients who are too ill to get up. As well as seeing people face to face, you may, in some circumstances, also provide online, phone or video support.
- Your working day will vary to some extent depending on the sector you work in and whether you're the sole chaplain or part of a multi-faith team.
- Roles can be demanding and challenging, for example if you're dealing with recently-bereaved families.
- There may be some travel involved for certain roles, such as hospital chaplain as you will need to visit hospitals, clinics and hospices. There are opportunities to work abroad, for example with the armed forces.
Chaplains come from a range of mainstream faiths and usually have either a degree or professional qualification, as well as experience of leading in their own faith community. You will also need experience of pastoral and spiritual care.
Christian chaplains, for example, typically have a theological, divinity or religious studies qualification, usually at degree level, as well as ordination or ministerial training and experience of delivery of worship, group work and pastoral care. There may be some roles, however, which may be open to people who have relevant equivalent experience.
To be an Islamic chaplain, you will need an in-depth knowledge of Islam, through a recognised qualification in Islamic studies at graduate level, for example, and experience of working as an Imam. It's also possible to train as a Muslim chaplain by taking the Certificate in Muslim Chaplaincy at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education.
There are similar training and experience requirements to become a Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Sikh chaplain and you will need to be a recognised authority within your faith community.
Some chaplaincy positions are subject to an enhanced criminal records check.
Entry requirements for the armed forces vary slightly depending on which branch you apply to. However, you must be either a priest or minister from one of the Christian 'sending churches' or be a religious leader from the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Sikh faith communities. You will need to have at least three years pastoral experience, relevant qualifications and have the appropriate permission from your Endorsing Authority.
For more information on becoming an armed forces chaplain, see:
There are also a growing number of opportunities to work as a non-religious pastoral support worker. Training and further information is available through Humanist UK. It's also possible to study for an MA in Existential and Humanist Pastoral Support at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling.
As a chaplain, you'll need to have:
- excellent listening, communication and interpersonal skills in order to build and develop relationships with the people you are helping
- an understanding and willingness to engage with people of all cultures, faith groups and none
- the ability to assess and respond to people's spiritual, religious and pastoral needs, which may be complex, contentious or sensitive
- the ability to empathise and treat individual concerns with respect, tact and sensitivity
- the ability to act with calmness and integrity in times of stress
- a strong commitment to people who become vulnerable and an understanding of the factors affecting their lives
- teamworking skills and also the ability to work autonomously
- presentation and report writing skills
- resilience and the ability to deal with unforeseen situations
- planning, time management and organisational skills with the ability to manage a complex caseload
- patience, tolerance and flexibility
- self-awareness and reflective skills
- an understanding of safeguarding, the extent and limitations of confidentiality, and the boundaries that govern the chaplain's relationship with service users.
You'll need to gain relevant experience before entering a junior chaplaincy position, as the role is not usually open to those who have just obtained a degree, even in a relevant discipline such as theology or Islamic studies.
As well as gaining experience of planning and leading worship, prayer or related faith activities, you'll also need experience, either paid or voluntary, of working with people in a caring, counselling or pastoral capacity.
Types of relevant experience can include youth work, personal counselling, careers work, teaching, care work or social work.
Volunteer chaplain and chaplaincy support positions are widely available with, for example, hospitals, hospices, residential care homes, prison services and police services.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Most opportunities are in the public, voluntary and not-for-profit sector. The main employers in the UK are:
- the NHS
- the police and fire service
- the prison service
Other settings include sports teams (most of the Premier League football clubs have a chaplain) and the armed forces.
Smaller employers include schools and colleges, housing associations, residential care homes and community organisations.
There are also limited opportunities for workplace chaplaincy with large industrial and commercial organisations.
Look for jobs at:
- British Army Jobs, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Careers
- Jobs.ac.uk - for roles in universities.
- Ministry of Justice HM Prison Service Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- Police Chaplaincy UK
You can also find opportunities through individual institutions, such as sports teams, universities and schools.
Chaplains in the armed forces receive a comprehensive in-service training programme when recruited. Induction, training and continuing professional development (CPD) programmes are also available in other sectors such as education, health, the police and prisons.
You'll need to continue developing your faith, spiritual knowledge and pastoral skills throughout your career. Opportunities are often provided by individual faith organisations.
It's also possible to study at postgraduate level to further develop your skills. As well as general chaplaincy courses, there are also courses available in particular sectors of chaplaincy such as healthcare and schools. It may also be useful to study for a qualification in counselling.
There is a UK voluntary register of healthcare chaplains that is maintained by the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy (UKBHC) and accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). In order to register, you'll need a qualification relevant to your faith community (or belief group) and a postgraduate qualification in healthcare chaplaincy. For a list of accredited programmes, see the UKBHC website.
It can be useful to join a professional body or network relevant to your area of chaplaincy, if available. They provide a wealth of networking opportunities, resources and conferences, events, study days and training.
- Association of Hospice & Palliative Care Chaplains
- College of Health Care Chaplains (CHCC)
- The Community Chaplaincy Association
- Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network
You may start as an assistant chaplain and will gain experience before moving into a chaplain role. With further experience, you could apply for more senior roles such as team leader or coordinator of a multi-faith chaplaincy.
There are a smaller number of management roles available, which usually occur in the larger multi-faith chaplaincies and spiritual services. You'll need leadership skills and the ability to coordinate and manage a team of chaplains, assistant chaplains and chaplaincy volunteers.
The number of opportunities available depends on the area you work in, and you may have to move job in order to progress. There is usually less scope for progression to team leading and management roles in smaller-scale settings such as schools and community organisations.
The pastoral and counselling skills that chaplains develop are transferable to other related roles in hospitals, prisons, universities and community organisations. With further training, you could move into a counselling role or into teaching.