The hospice, like all parts of the healthcare community, is committed to care that is sensitive to different beliefs.
The chaplaincy respects the needs of people of all faiths and none and we provide spiritual care appropriate to the individual. The chaplaincy also maintains a rota of specialist ministers (including Bahai, Buddhism, various Christian denominations, Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism and Sikhism) who can advise on how to care best for patients, carers and family members from different faith traditions.
The expertise that we have acquired in caring for people around the end of life is available to be shared with other health and social care professionals, freely, on request. Please contact me, Clare Griffiths, the lead Hospice Chaplain, at any time.
For general information, we have included below an introduction to some of the many beliefs held by local people.
The UK also contains a variety of different faith groups. Christianity is the largest single grouping (around three quarters of the population) and there is much variety to celebrate.
We’ve included below, in alphabetical order, some brief introductions to some of the more common sets of beliefs in Worcestershire.
Buddhism provides a religious outlook for a fifth of humanity. In the 2001 census there were 151,816 recorded Buddhists in Britain. However, that doesn’t take into account those who regard themselves as Buddhists as well as Christians, or Jews, or Taoists, or hold any other concurrent form of faith.
There are also those who refuse to formally label themselves as ‘Buddhists’ because they perceive it to run counter to the principle of selflessness or egolessness.
Buddhism stems from the teachings of the Buddha Mahatma Gautama Shakyamuni who lived in Northern India around 500 BCE. Buddha is not worshipped as a god but revered as an inspiration of how people can transform their lives. There are various Buddhist traditions. The ancient civilisations of India and China were profoundly affected by Buddhism and today it remains deeply influential in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Korea, Japan and the countries of the Himalayas; as well as in areas of India settled by Tibetans in exile.
The Buddha’s words were transmitted orally through his followers and later formulated into teachings which Buddhists call the Dharma. These teachings were eventually written down and transmitted to anyone who wished to hear them. Buddhism encourages its followers to develop wisdom and to have compassion towards all forms of life. The Buddhist path involves meditation, practice and study leading to ‘Enlightenment’.
This path is eightfold and defined as:
Right view Right thought
Right speech Right actions
Right livelihood Right meditation
Right effort Right mindfulness
There are five basic precepts and these are:
- To refrain from killing
- To refrain from taking that which is not given
- To refrain from misuse of the senses and sexual misconduct
- To refrain from lying or using false or harmful speech,
To refrain from taking intoxicating drink or drugs which cloud the mind.
Shortly before his death at the age of 80, the Buddha brought together a group of his followers and founded a religious order – the Sangha – which has remained both the guardian and the embodiment of his teachings to this day. These three aspects – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha – are known to all Buddhists as the Three Refuges or the Three Jewels. For a sincere Buddhist they point to the practical path of spiritual awakening.
Although there is a great variety of Chinese belief systems (including Christianity and Islam), the most prevalent influences are Buddhism (see above), Confucianism, Taoism and veneration of ancestors.
Confucianism was founded K’ung Fu Tzu, who were born in 551 BCE. Confucianism deals mainly with individual morality, ethics and the proper exercise of political power. It emphasises respect for rules and authority.
The founder of Taoism is believed to be Lau-Tse (604-531 BCE). Taoism is broadly based on the key concepts of yin and yang, ch’i and the five elements of matter (water, fire, earth, metal and wood). Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are often blended to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent religions.
In traditional Chinese families sons and daughters must be dutiful towards older family members, particularly their parents. Reverence for ancestors is regarded as a matter of great importance.
Christianity was founded around 2000 years ago in the area of modern-day Israel and Palestine. It is based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, known as the Christ (the anointed one). Christianity is the world’s largest and culturally most adaptable religion numbering around one third of the human race. Although Christians hold much in common, there is a wide diversity of beliefs, ethical standpoints and forms of worship among the many denominations and groups which make up the Christian Church. There are 225 different Christian denominations in England, ranging from the tiny Assyrian Church of the East to large groups like the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
At the centre of Christian belief is Jesus, who is regarded as the revelation of God. For most Christians this revelation is such that he is understood to be the incarnation of God. The Christian holy book is called the Bible. What is known as the Old Testament is in fact the Jewish Scriptures and is held, therefore, in common with Judaism and, in part, with Islam too. The New Testament records the life and teaching of Jesus and a record of the early years of Christianity. Some Bibles contain a middle section of books too, called the ‘Apochrypha’. Key Christian practices are baptism and Holy Communion (also called the ‘Eucharist’, the ‘Lord’s Supper’ or the ‘Mass’). Prayer and meditation are important to Christians in their daily life, and many Christians are also involved with justice, peace and development issues, in common with adherents of other faiths.
Hinduism originated near the river Indus over 5,000 years ago, although elements of the faith are much older. The Hindu tradition has no founder and is best understood as a group of closely connected religious traditions rather than a single religion. It represents a complete way of life and is practised by over 900 million followers. Eighty per cent of the population of India is Hindu. Hindus believe in one God and worship that one God under many manifestations, deities or images. Examples of Hindu deities are Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Durga.
Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, governed by Karma ( a complex belief in cause and effect). Hindus believe that all prayers addressed to any form or manifestation will ultimately reach the one God. Hinduism does not prescribe particular dogmas; rather it asks individuals to worship God according to their own belief. It therefore allows a great deal of freedom in matters of faith and worship.
Although humanism is not a faith, it does provide a moral framework for life. Believing that a person has only one life, humanists try to make it as worthwhile and happy as possible for everyone. Humanists can be atheists (definitely no god), agnostics (the existence or otherwise of god is unknowable) or sceptics who question the idea of any god or other power beyond the physical world. However, humanism is more than just a simple denial of religious belief. Humanists base their moral principles on a rational approach to life, under-pinned by shared human values and respect for others, with the aim of improving the quality of life, making it more equitable for all.
Humanism focuses on human beings and offers an ethical approach to life, a belief in people’s ability to solve problems. To this end, humanists try to co-operate with people of all faiths to achieve the shared aims of a caring free society. Humanists assert that morality comes from our ability to see that there is general benefit when we behave well towards each other; an ability that is enhanced by personal responsibility, a caring and principled upbringing and education.
Islam is a world religion that originated in the Middle East in the seventh century CE. It is practised by about a fifth of the world’s population. Muslims believe there is only one God (Allah) and Muhammad is his prophet. Although Muslims revere Muhammad they do not worship him. Muslims believe that everything and everyone depends on Allah. All Muslims of whatever race are members of one community known as the ummah.
Islam is the Arabic name for the Muslim religion. The term means ‘surrender to God’s will’ and includes acceptance of those articles of faith, commands and ordinates revealed through the Prophet Mohammed.
There are a number of different strands of Islam that have emerged over history – principally Sunni and Shia – in much the same way that Christianity has acquired different traditions and emphases.
These different branches have much in common. Mecca, near the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, is the religious centre for Muslims and a place of pilgrimage from all parts of Islam. It was here that Mohammed was born and began his teaching.
Muslims are guided to follow Allah’s will by obeying their holy book, the Qur’an, and also by following the example set by Muhammad.
Every Muslim must perform duties known as the ‘five pillars of Islam’ These are:
- To recite a specific verse – their declaration of faith (Shahadah)
- To offer five specific prayers daily (Salat)
- To give two and a half per cent of their savings one a year to the poor (Zakat)
- To undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, if they can afford to, once in a lifetime (Hajj)
- To fast during the month of Ramadan (Sawm)
Judaism is an ancient religion that has been practised for over 5,000 years and is based on the belief in one universal God. Jews believe in the Torah (Divine Law), which was revealed to Moses and is viewed as unchanging. They also believe that God is omniscient and will reward the righteous and punish the wicked at the end of time when there will be a resurrection of all the dead.
Jews must live their lives by certain basic tenets: to carry out the Ten Commandments, and to live according to Jewish values based on love of one’s neighbour and tolerance of one’s fellow human beings.
The religious aspects of Judaism are based on relationships: the relationship of God and man and the relationships between humans based on principles of fairness and equality. Belief in God is a personal acceptance of this close connection between an individual and God, and religious observance is a means of publicly displaying the state of this relationship.
Paganism has it roots in the pre-Christian religions of Europe. Its re-emergence in England parallels that in other western countries, where it has been growing since the 1950s. The social infrastructure of paganism reflects the value the pagan community places on unity in diversity; it consists of a network of inter-related traditions and local groups served by several larger organisations. In England the Pagan Federation acts as an educational and representative body.
Pagans understand deity to be manifest within nature and recognise divinity as taking many forms, finding expression in goddesses as well as gods. Goddess worship is central in paganism. Pagans believe that nature is sacred and that the natural cycles of birth, growth and death observed in the world around us carry profoundly spiritual meanings. Human beings are seen as part of nature, along with other animals, trees, stones, plants and everything else that is of this earth. Most pagans believe in some form of reincarnation, viewing death as a transition within a continuing process of existence.
The Sikh faith is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of ten Gurus (messengers of God) the first of whom was Guru Nank Dev Ji who was born in 1469 CE in the Punjab, India. In 1708 the tenth and the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, vested spiritual authority in the Holy Sikh Scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib Ji) and temporal authority in the community of baptised Sikhs (Khalsa Panth).
Sikhs strictly believe that there is one god, who is both transcendent and immanent (present in all things and everyone). Although above human comprehension, God can be realised and experienced through contemplation and service. The object of a Sikh’s life is to develop consciousness of God and to receive God’s grace through truthful living and selfless service in the context of a family life. A Sikh’s way of life is guided by the following principles:
- Remembering and praying to God at all times
- Earning a living by honest means
- Sharing with the poor and needy
- Selfless service to God and His Creation
- Treating all human beings as equal
Sikhs wear five articles of faith:
- Uncut hair (Kesh)
- A small wooden comb (Kangha)
- An iron/steel bangle (Kara)
- A short sword (Kirpan) and
- Special shorts (Kachhera)
These articles have deep spiritual and moral significance, forming part of the Sikh Code of Ethics and Discipline.
We hope that you have found this brief introduction useful. Don’t forget that we welcome enquiries about the different faiths represented in Worcestershire. In particular we are happy to share our knowledge of how to care for people around the end of life, freely, with all health and social care professionals.
Clare Griffiths, Lead Chaplain, St. Richard’s Hospice