All Things to all People? The Integrity of Spiritual Care in a Plural Health Service


  • Duncan MacLaren NHS Lothian



chaplain, pluralism, secularization, professional, generic, integrity


In recent decades, healthcare chaplaincy in the United Kingdom has had to adapt to the growth of cultural pluralism and the waning of Christian monopolies in the public sphere. It has done this in different ways in Scotland and in England, following their differing patterns of secularization. Typically, chaplaincy in England has responded by embracing diversity, with the emergence of “multi-faith” teams. Scotland, by contrast, has sought to create a neutral space for chaplaincy, with the construction of “generic” teams. This article argues that both these responses to pluralism are problematic, for different reasons. “Multi-faith” chaplaincy risks becoming inequitable, while “generic” chaplaincy puts the integrity of the chaplain under threat. This study offers a “third way” – a way of reconceptualizing the relationship between a chaplain’s particular formational identity and the demands of a professional spiritual care service that must give equal access to all. This insight is derived by analogy from the world of counselling and psychotherapy, which has come to terms with professionalization in recent years. Writing from the Scottish context, and in contrast to the generic model, I argue for a recovery of emphasis on the chaplain’s formational identity as a necessary resource in being able to offer authentic spiritual care. Part of the process of professionalization could be the retention of an older sense of “professional,” which acknowledges the importance of being rooted in the beliefs and commitments a person “professes.”

Author Biography

Duncan MacLaren, NHS Lothian

Rev. Dr. Duncan MacLaren is Head of Spiritual Care and Bereavement at NHS Lothian, Scotland, UK.


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How to Cite

MacLaren, D. (2021). All Things to all People? The Integrity of Spiritual Care in a Plural Health Service. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 9(1), 27–41.