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Archbishop Rowan’s Thoughts on Lay Ministry

The title to this post is a sort of music-hall joke. The answer to the question: ‘what are ++Rowan’s thoughts on lay ministry?’ is
‘but ++Rowan doesn’t have any thoughts on lay ministry, does he? Does he?’ Boom-boom.

You must judge for yourselves. You can read the whole text of his address to Synod of 9 July 2011 here.

The following extracts give a flavour of the speech (but please read it in its entirety before coming to any conclusions).

“Effective ministerial presence is essential if people are to be in touch with the faithfulness of God through the Church.  It is more than just the presence of the worshipping community, vital as that is: this community has to have its presence focused and personalised in a way that makes it accessible.  And that is a central aspect of the role of the ordained, both directly (as the identifiable face of the worshipping community) and indirectly, as the catalyst that prompts worshippers into service by the repetition of the news of the gospel… We are never likely to return to the mythological past beloved of some critics when every small parish had its resident full-time pastor.  But – to pick up ideas and experiments that are being explored at the moment – sometimes what matters is having a person (literally a ‘parson’) in each small community who is genuinely recognisable as the focus of the Church’s presence, ordained or not; so that the ordained minister is there as friend and support for a number of such ‘presences’, and trained to recognise their giftings.  But this is not just a matter of encouraging people to ‘do jobs’ for the Church.  It is also about the way an ordained person can keep alive and impart to others ways of giving thanks, drawing together the prayer and aspiration of a community.  So how far do we currently think about an ordained minister as someone who can as a real priority communicate what the worship of the Church really is and help others to animate it? The ordained minister as co-ordinator, as liturgist and trainer in liturgy, as well as teacher and inspirer in the more usual ways, the ordained person as celebrant of the community in a very full sense, and one who helps others learn how to celebrate in the name of the Church – this is surely one dimension of where we are being led today…”

The speech is 3447 words long. The archbishop uses the word ordained 14 times; ministry 4 times; ministerial twice; and lay and laity not at all. He makes two oblique references to the contribution of lay people to worship: he talks about ‘effective ministry (ordained or otherwise)‘ and this curious idea of identifying people of God, exceptionally holy and well-behaved people presumably, in each parish who are to serve as what the archbishop calls ‘presences‘ and I think I would call ‘teacher’s pets’.

Archbishop Rowan is a gifted orator, and it is clear from the twitter reactions to his speech that it was well-received overall. For the bishops and clergy present, I can see that ‘heart spoke unto heart’.  But what about his listeners from the House of Laity? What about other lay people, looking on? What about the LGBT community, as David Goss reminded us on twitter?

I see nothing here for any of us except a desert and waste land.

Luckily, my experience of God is more or less the opposite of what ++Rowan appears to have in mind as the ‘correct’ way for lay people to experience Him, and that is solely as demonstrated by the ordained. Kindly meant, no doubt, but if, after 60 years of Christian worship, I had to rely on the priesthood  to explain to me what was meant by Christianity, it wouldn’t say much for their effectiveness over a lifetime, now would it?

One priest who has shown, and continues to show me the way is the Revd Lesley Fellows. Here is an extract from a recent post of hers:

The church sometimes draws me towards God and sometimes away from God. Sometimes I wonder whether there is more darkness than light in the church. However, I find myself connected to God through the Eucharist and even if it is that one sacrament alone that the church offers as light, that still leaves me committed to the church for my spiritual refreshment, however infuriated I sometimes get.

Thank-you, Lesley. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

1. The photograph of Archbishop Rowan is via wikimedia under CCL. The photographer was ‘Brian.jpg’
2. My assertion that the Archbishop has no views on lay ministry, or at least no affirming ones, is based on previous searches of the speeches on his website and the fact that there is no mention of my tier of ministry on the main Church of England website, and scant reference to Licensed Lay Ministers. I would be very pleased to be proved wrong on this inference.

12 comments on this post:

preacherwoman said...

You know from my tweets that this is how I feel as a (lay) reader – ignored!

09 July 2011 16:54
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, preacherwoman. And when I think of all the training you had to go through to be a LLM, what does the good archbishop think was the point of that?
The only hope I see really is that the laity are of course much the numerically strongest part of the church. If we could speak with one voice, now that would be thing…

09 July 2011 16:59
UKViewer said...

Sometimes I think that the ABC is really in touch, such as at last weekend's Ordination Service in Canterbury. At other times I get lost in his obscurity.

It's a great address, if you are in ordained ministry, or contemplating ordained ministry, but holds out little or no hope, or guidance for lay ministry.

His concept of a 'Holy Person' in every community, holding things together, 'being the Gospel' is something I could subscribe to, it he wasn't clearly thinking about ordained ministry.

What happens in an interregnum? The Church Warden's, as Bishop's Officers hold things together. Bringing in clergy from where ever they can to fulfill services, but in reality, often have to provide a 'service of the word' in their absence. They also continue the mission of the church in the community in the absence of the Parish Priest on holiday, sabbatical or sickness. Sure we can't have the sacraments, but the Christian Community does not stop dead until the next incumbent arrives.

Bishop Trevor Willmott, very recently spoke about re-imagining ministry, which was empowerment of the whole people of God in their vocation to be 'Great High Priests' from baptism, which seemed to me to point the way forward in Canterbury Diocese. How can the Suffragan, not know the mind of his Arch Bishop?

I'm struggling with this to be honest. If the top is pulling in a different direction to where the bottom feels pulled, called than we have a real problem in discerning what we are about. The voice from the pews, such as mine is listened to in parish and we make slow, painful progress, living out the Gospel day to day, but we need authenticity and gentle, but strong leadership, if we are to bring about the Kingdom, here and now.

If the laity are not involved, what are the clergy for? Just there to dress up, to boss us about and to tell us how we should conduct our lives? I think not. We need a new vision, I just wonder if we are going to get it, or just more of the same. I pray that I am wrong, but on this evidence, I wonder.

09 July 2011 17:00
Lay Anglicana said...

We have spoken about Bishop Trevor before. He was very much my mentor as a lay worship leader, when he introduced the title and system in Andover Deanery in 2005. Now reading between the lines, I think he may have had difficulty in persuading the diocesan bishop then, because the idea was never taken up in other deaneries in the diocese. I am sure he is there tugging at ++Rowan's sleeve on this subject, about which I know he does feel very strongly. In the end, we have to hope that the ABC will listen to him and other voices which appreciate the need 'to go back to the days of the early church' as Bishop Trevor put it to us.

09 July 2011 17:04
Charlie said...

I think this is unfair to the ABC. He tends to speak about whatever is on his mind at the time, and on this occasion he has been thinking about ministry and priesthood on the train up to York. We shouldn't then infer that he has no vision for lay ministry. Anyway, if you look at his para. that you have quoted, the middle bit (about the "person in each community") is a reference to lay ministry.

I also wonder if he is one of those who will not use the word "laity", understanding that the Laos are the whole people of God, and the ordained just one small subset of that people.

09 July 2011 18:03
Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I don't think +Rowan is quite as blind as we fear about this, but his radar may not quite be as well tuned as it could be for the resonances around this.

The very unfortunate effect, as you say, is to seem like yet another example of something that is really beginning to get my goat — the idea that "ministry" = "Vicars, preferably stipendiary". This stale attitude is killing congregations and, actually, vicars, all over the land. Perhaps we should declare a moratorium on that word until we learn to use it for what it really means.

09 July 2011 19:58
Lay Anglicana said...

Good evening, Charlie.
I accept that I may be being unfair to Archbishop Rowan. I have never met him. I infer that he has no interest in lay ministry because I have not seen any previous speech by him which focuses on this, nor is there any reference on the national website of the Church of England to what I am calling 'lay worship leaders', ie those with minimum training (in my case 8 evenings in successive weeks). Nor is the national website particularly warm on the subject of Licensed Lay Ministers.

The Archbishop's person/parson is not a description so far as I can see of either LLM or LWL. It is not even clear that these people are to be used for worship, rather than pastoral work or building management.

If he prefers not to use the word 'laity' – for the reasons you give or others – it is open to him to explain this.

I assure you I don't enjoy taking issue with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It distresses me, but I find the whole implication that people can only find God through the clergy even more distressing.


09 July 2011 20:19
Lay Anglicana said...

Good evening, Bishop Alan,
I of course accept what you say about Archbishop Rowan: I am completely unsighted on this, whereas you will have had conversations with him and are in a much better position to assess his views and attitudes.

I just wonder whether he is suffering from the same problem which affected Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher (and also, no doubt, some male candidates if I could think of some!) One of the problems of office is that the longer one is at the top of an organisation, the more one tends to get cut off from the views of the 'man on top of the Clapham omnibus' by the very efficiency of one's secretariat. This is why kings had court jesters, isn't it (I would offer myself for this role, but fear I might not be welcome!).

The question of ministry is complicated, it seems to me, by the difference between the CofE (which recognises only bishops,priests and deacons) and the Episcopal Church (which also recognises the priesthood of the laity). I would of course dearly love the CofE to follow TEC on this – and it is hard to see how both can sigh the same Covenant without agreeing this major difference that seems so far to have been ignored?

Meanwhile, I (cheekily) cannot improve on:
"the idea that "ministry" = "Vicars, preferably stipendiary". This stale attitude is killing congregations and, actually, vicars, all over the land. Perhaps we should declare a moratorium on that word until we learn to use it for what it really means."

Hear, hear!

09 July 2011 20:32
Charlie said...

I agree with Alan. I just don't think that was what the ABC was saying. What he was saying isn't entirely clear, but that's often the way with him.

And with due respect to this excellent blog, surely we shouldn't get locked into the equally sterile idea that "Lay Ministry"="Licensed Lay Ministers" ?

09 July 2011 20:48
Lay Anglicana said...

As I say above, if you *can* tell me what the ABC did mean, I would be very grateful!

As a humble lay worship leader, I would certainly not subscribe to the idea that Lay Ministry = Licensed Lay Minister (3 years? versus 8 weeks training, for one thing. Also LLMs can do more, eg preach, which we are not allowed to do. And burials.)

But I wonder why you say the idea is sterile? Can you unpack this a bit?

One of my concerns is that who is allowed to do what, after how much training, and with how much supervision, varies enormously from diocese to diocese. We are, probably quite rightly, pretty circumscribed at my level. But in Ely it seems they have to do a year of Saturday mornings before they are allowed to do the same as us in Andover Deanery. I would have thought some degree of national agreement might be a good idea? But maybe a good Anglican muddle is preferable?


09 July 2011 21:08
Charlie said...

Oh. I was just making a comparison with Alan's statement about ministry equalling ordained stipendiary. I think in both cases the problem is an obsession with, for want of a better word, "qualifications", rather than on the body of Christ.

What I was trying to say is that ministry is not confined to those who have been given the piece of paper to say that they are a minister. 8 weeks or 3 years, collar, blue scarf, or piece of paper: these are not the things that make a minister. Training is just a useful way of adding competence to raw gifting, and ministry is not the sole province of those who have a letter from the Bishop.

Does that make any sense at this time on a Saturday evening?

09 July 2011 21:21
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for explaining – and you are right that a piece of paper does not make someone a 'minister'. On the other hand, I feel a bit sorry for the bureaucracy here! I can see why an organisation would want to have some sort of agreed hoops for people to jump through. But I do think the Church might be free to make allowance for the 'university of life' in this case – in our deanery, all those chosen had been confirmed members of the CofE for many years and perhaps one might get credits for this?!
As you say, a complicated thing to sort out at this time on a Saturday night.

09 July 2011 21:39

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