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Letter to Bishop Justin on the Laity in the Church of England

I have just sent the following message to Bishop Justin Welby:


Dear Bishop Justin,

I am taking advantage of the few days remaining, before you assume your archiepiscopal role, to send you some thoughts on the place of the laity. I do so with some trepidation, but in the hope that you will accept these ideas as offered with all due diffidence. I have been encouraged to write by your own background as a lay leader at Holy Trinity Brompton, and the fact that you have made several references to consultation with lay as well as clerical leaders. I write as an individual, but also as the editor of the Lay Anglicana website, and have sought  and drawn on the comments of our members.

I have genuinely written in humility, but it would read tediously like the utterances of Uriah Heep were I to reiterate this in every sentence so I hope you will forgive the occasional trenchancy.

1)     Church of England Hierarchy

a)     Although Cranmer’s prayer book has been continually updated as the prescribed liturgy of the Church of England, many attitudes of the priesthood to the laity (and vice versa) still stem from those of the sixteenth century: in particular there is a lingering sense that priests are the educated, Brahminical class and the laity are either landowning squires, shopkeepers or serfs – all perfectly useful in their way  but not worthy of admission to the chancel, except by formal invitation to the communion rail.

b)    This is reflected in the preface to the ordination of clergy: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been…Bishops, Priests and Deacons‘ (essentially unchanged in Canon C1).

c)     As one of our members put it, the laity are ‘done to’ by their clergy: in other words, ministry is perceived as strictly a one-way process, with only the incumbent authorised to minister.

d)    The catechism of the 1795 (1979) prayer book of The Episcopal Church has: ‘The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.’

e)     We seek a similar ‘priesthood of all believers’ practised in the Church of England.


2)     Church of England Polity

a)     Are our bishops still ‘princes of the church’ and, if so, should our episcopate model itself on an absolute monarchy (by divine right), Magna Carta or some other point in English political history? The Church seems not yet to have fully accepted the 1689 Bill of Rights, with its introduction of election to parliament, since the electoral base of deanery synods is so very narrow.

b)    Two anecdotes: the previous Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, visited our parish church and said to the churchwarden, ‘welcome to St Peter’s!’, to which the churchwarden replied, ‘well, I am sitting in my pew’. If the church does indeed belong to the bishop (undoubtedly the legal position), it is curious, is it not (and unique) that it is the churchwarden and other lay parishioners who bear sole financial responsibility for its upkeep?

c)     Secondly, the current +Winton, Tim Dakin, addressed Andover Deanery churchgoers in November, saying: ‘The Church of England is an episcopal church. It is not presbyterian, nor is it congregational, it is episcopalian‘.  Again, the legality of this statement is unquestionable, but we hope and trust that Bishop Tim will avoid the risk of delivering diocesan governance, like the ten commandments, from on high.

d)    The vote on women bishops vividly demonstrated the un-representative nature of the laity in the House of Laity (probably because of the narrowness of the electoral base). The move to unseat the Chair seems, from the outside looking in, a curiously oblique attempt to solve this problem.


3)     Ideas For The Future

a)     To coin a phrase, ‘we’re all in this together’. Instead of emphasising the chancel steps, we need to bring together the clergy and laity (whether Marys, Marthas or a mixture of the two).

b)    I ask you to consider making greater use of the laity to lead services of the word. This might involve borrowing some ideas from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but it should be possible to adapt these to our episcopal model.

i)      Most of the existing schemes, from Licensed Lay Ministers to the less stringent system in Ely Diocese, require lengthy formal training .

ii)    Yet there are existing provisions for churchwardens to take services with no training at all in leading worship.

iii)  Could one not extrapolate from this to adopt nationwide, for example, the system of  Lay Elders in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich or the Lay Worship Leaders in Andover Deanery, Winchester Diocese (of which I was one)?

iv)  By definition, many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are retired or approaching retirement. It is not realistic to expect them to train and qualify as Licensed Lay Ministers – their long service as practising Christians should be regarded as sufficient (assuming their candidacy is backed by the PCC and incumbent).

v)    The matter is urgent in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices. Without clergy to take regular services in each parish church, their place needs to be taken by lay people during intervening weeks if the congregations are not simply to wither away.

vi)  The alternative, proposed for example by Michael Turnbull and Donald McFadyen in ‘The state of the Church and the Church of the State’ (eg pp149-153) of a minster model where congregations move from church to church each Sunday is, I suggest, difficult to introduce because the general concept of neighbourhood is not so broad.    It may be worth noting here the ‘ten cell’ system used in Marxist regimes: ten residences formed one unit, the largest group in which it was thought people would feel a strong sense of belonging.

c)     It is not my suggestion that the Church should attempt to dragoon into leading worship those who prefer to sit in the back pew and take a passive role. Undue stress on ‘lay leadership’ could risk a failure to celebrate the unsung sacraments such as tea-and-coffee after church, an important community glue for many. There is surely room for both.

d)    It has been suggested that voting for General Synod should move to a system of  “One Member: One Vote” by Paul Bagshaw. If it were possible to introduce this, the vote by the House of Laity would be more likely to reflect the overall views of ‘the people in the pews’.

I close by sending you the good wishes and prayers of the contributors to, and members of, Lay Anglicana.

The illustration is a Petition by Eli Whitney to the Selectmen of Westborough, Massachusetts, showing a sample of his penmanship. Westborough native Whitney went on to be a highly successful inventor. Date 1785-1791  Source Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database via Wikimedia

66 comments on this post:

Karen said...

Excellent! Though, as a clergy person, I feel very saddened by the perception of 1) Church of England Heirarchy, and that is not at all how I view the laity, I am in complete agreement with the thoughts and ideas of 2) and 3). I applaud your sending of this letter!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for being brave enough to comment! I am glad that is not how you view the laity, and I must say my impression from the clergy that I know through social media I cannot think of anyone who does. However, in the boondocks where we have lived, I am afraid it is still true. Often entirely benevolent. I mentioned to one priest in a neighbouring deanery (in Winchester diocese, Andover is the only deanery where Bishop Trevor Willmott managed to get Lay Worship Leaders introduced) who is a friend, that I had become a LWL – and he blurted out ‘thank goodness we don’t have to have those here’. It was not unkindly meant, and if he had thought first he probably wouldn’t have said it!

17 January 2013 22:47
17 January 2013 22:44
Vernon said...

I thoroughly agree. As a clergy person I do not agree with heirarchy but recognise that is what is perceived. I wish lay people could and would do more to make the priesthood of all believers more of a reality. There is a sticking point though; much of Anglican worship in some places is Eucharistic (a chips with everything mentality – Syrup sponge? Yes, but only if I can have chips with it!). The current practice is that a Priest must preside at such worship. There is a limit to what can be given away to be owned by the laity. It is often perceived as ‘helping out the vicar’ rather than the ordained being there to help the laity. Thanks for writing this and raising the issues for discussion and hopefully transformation.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Vernon. Yes, personally I shudder at the thought of lay presidency and, when we have discussed it on this website, that has been the reaction of 99% of those commenting. I was born in 1948 and, in the way of my tribe, baptised at the age of 3 months. Throughout my childhood, Matins was the norm, with the Eucharist on high days and holidays. Then the movement started to have Eucharist every week and now, as you say, this has become the norm. I have no problem with this (though I do rather like Matins, and miss the opportunity perhaps to explore rather more than is possible in the course of the Eucharistic liturgy). But this leaves us with a very stark choice – do you stick to this relatively recent development at all costs? If you do, then as the priest cannot be in all places at once, your parish church may have a service once a month, or once every other month if it is really small. In practice, in the country at least, there is enormous resistance to going to services in other parish churches in the benefice, in fact there is still great resistance to feeling much kindred spirit with other parishes in the benefice. This means that churches remain empty and congregations dwindle I, for one, would prefer to revert to the churchgoing of my youth, with a service of the word taken three weeks out of four if necessary (but hopefully less than that) with the priest offering holy communion once a month.

17 January 2013 23:26
17 January 2013 23:18
Keith Jillings said...

Good for you, Laura.
I was at a meeting this afternoon to discuss a major new housing development and how the church n the area should deal with it. Several parishes are involved.
The stipendiary clergy in the meeting talked and behaved as if the rest of us weren’t there. The Rural Dean regularly talked straight over the top of the lay folk there, while listening intently to what the clergy said. He has now decided how the organisation should be and how the parish boundaries should be drawn, without hearing the opinions of any of the laity in the parishes involved.

Lay Anglicana said...

You make my point for me, thank-you. I know this is not universal, and there are numerous examples of much more egalitarian relationships, but when it happens, the result is dire and apoplexy-inducing.

18 January 2013 10:25
17 January 2013 23:38
Richard Haggis said...

I like this – good old-fashioned common sense, as ever! One tiny niggle – and it is precisely no more than that – about those who come to church and choose to sit at the back and “be passive”. Many of those people go out into the world and do the work of the Gospel all week long on the strength of the nourishment for the task they receive on Sunday morning. It is the job of bishops (and I dearly wish, PCCs, in selecting clergy) to make sure this happens. Looking forward to the reply!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Richard. I agree with all that you say, and am sorry if this didn’t come across. Perhaps this is the place to thank everyone for their suggestions for inclusion in the letter. Where the suggestions impinged directly on the role of the laity, I wove them into the letter. However, many people made very good points about how we think Bishop Justin should set about reforming the Anglican Communion in general and the Church of England in particular once he is Cantuar. I took the decision not to include these, partly because that really would have looked as if I was trying to teach my ecclesiastical grandfather how to suck eggs, and partly because it would have made the letter much too long.

One example is the very interesting discussion that has evolved on Wendy Dackson’s piece on introverts in the Church. I certainly feel there is room for those who prefer to ponder things in their hearts as well as the gung-ho men and women of action. Yin and Yang. Chords. Harmony.

18 January 2013 10:32
18 January 2013 00:30
minidvr said...

Thank yo Laura for such an erudite and accurate expression of the thoughts of many of us. While I personally am happy with a Eucharist being available each Sunday, in a Benefice of 5 churches (soon to be 9) it’s impossible to have a service in each church, each week, without running the Clergy into the ground.

There are so many other ways that empowering the laity could provide worship opportunities, i.e. a service in every church, every Sunday. Matins, Evensong, a Service of the Word, Lay Led family services which can be enormous fun as well as activity led. And, not forgetting that may elder members might be uncomfortable with high activity family services, quiet prayerful space with Complin.

None of these need Clergy and many lay people would be willing to step up to the plate, if it wasn’t for the need for them to be formally trained, authorised and supervised. Have you ever explored a ‘Working Agreement’ for such authorised lay ministry. It’s full of what you can and cannot do. It’s about oversight, its about appraisal and performance. In fact, it might be the thing to stop potential lay ministers in their tracks.

Empowerment of the laity needs a more flexible approach, with a lighter touch. Not management speak. It needs authenticity and recognition with some guidance and accountability from Clergy and more experienced laity, not to be ring fenced with what is or isn’t permissible or appropriate..

Sure such ministry needs recognition and approval from the PCC, but this would be a natural development, when someone who is willing to step forward will be well known and a trusted member of the congregation – but it’s also an opportunity to bring forward younger people, children among them and empower them early as the future lay or clergy leaders of our church.

Bishop Justin, I hope that you are listening and reading.

Lay Anglicana said...

Well said, E! I am grateful to Charley Farns-Barns for pointing out the glaring anomaly in all of this: churchwardens are empowered to take services of the word, but are not expected to undertake any training to do so (in fact, I would imagine it is rare for them to even be offered any). ‘A more flexible approach, with a lighter touch’ – I couldn’t have put it better myself! 🙂

18 January 2013 10:36
Anne said...

I entirely agree with the comments above about the sheer weight of expectation in terms of training, oversight, review, working agreements etc, placed on lay ministers (and by extension on the clergy who are expected to provide and enable these things). I am well aware of huge amounts of talent and good ministry going on in my parish, but few of the congregation have the time or desire to take on what is now a great package of expectations. They are already doing the ministry to which they are called. What they do often need and value is time to reflect on it, or specific and focussed input on specific and focussed areas, not a three year course demanding that they travel to a regular evening lecture somewhere and write essays on things they have no interest in. Often – usually – these needs would be easily met simply by, say, some material online which could be worked through with someone appropriate, lay or ordained. This might even – shock, horror – be their very own parish priest, who is there to “equip the saints for the work of ministry…”. As a parish priest myself, I am aware that I have been trained at vast expense, and have nearly 20 years of experience of parish ministry – I just might know a thing or two… and the kind of conversations you could have with someone in delivering such training would be a good building block for subsequent relationships.But if someone in my congregation wants to develop and deepen their ministry and be authorised to work on the church’s behalf they will inevitably be channelled into these immensely time and energy consuming courses, and I, as parish priest, will probably not be involved at all, except to approve their joining the course (a recently authorised Pastoral Assistant went through two years of training without anyone organising the course EVER asking for my opinion on how she was getting on, whether I was seeing her at all, or how they thought she was getting on…). I do see the necessity for accountability for those who work on the church’s behalf, but a “lighter and more flexible touch”, especially in these days when it is so easy to provide resources online, would not only help lay people to do what they are called to do, it would also make far better use of the skills and experience of their expensively trained, housed, and employed clergy.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Anne. I apologise for the delay in replying to you. I think you make a very important comment, perhaps the most important of all. Whereas priests are trained to serve anywhere, people at the level I am talking about are being trained to work with the incumbent in their own parish. The Bishop of Basingstoke has just ruled (for Andover Deanery) that lay worship leaders may only take services in their own parish, not in other parishes in their benefice. We had all rather hoped that we would be deployable throughout the benefice, but this is not to be. I understand his point, which is that you are either fully trained and globally deployable, or not trained at all, and need to be rooted to the spot!

In training the lay worship leaders, this has been done here by the Rural (now Area) Dean, with the help of one non-stipendiary priest. The trainee’s parish priest (if it is not either of these two) has not been involved. I think you make a vital point that this is unfortunate. I think I will try and blog on this, as it is something which needs to be discussed in greater detail. But I am sure it would help to cement relationships (which can be tricky) at an early stage if the priest in charge felt some personal involvement in the training.

20 January 2013 16:54
19 January 2013 07:11
18 January 2013 10:25
Phil Groom said...

Interesting. As a clergy spouse, what I see is my wife run ragged trying to keep up with the demands on her time: not so much the laity being ‘done to’ as the clergy ‘done in’ — and that not so much by the laity as by the diocese: the laity are overwhelmingly loving and supportive, whilst the diocese seems to demand more and more and my wonderful wife finds herself torn apart.

Two parishes and a diocesan role: a challenging combination; and why has it come to this? In a word: money. The diocese is strapped for cash — and that, alas, comes back to us, the laity: how many of us can honestly raise our hands and say that we’re giving responsibly?

Imagine: if every church member took that old biblical principle of tithing as their guideline! For every 10 people giving 10% the church could employ 1 person on the average of those people’s incomes; yet what we have are churches with 30, 40 or more members struggling to make ends meet! Heck, even if people split it, 5% to the church and 5% to other good causes, that’s still 1 person employed for every 20. Split it further: take that 5% and divide it 50/50 between employing someone and church maintenance/admin and a congregation of as few as 40 could support a paid minister and manage the maintenance/admin…

Or to put it another way: the priesthood of all believers begins with our wallets. Wakey wakey, laity!

Lay Anglicana said...

I think this is a circular argument, really. Yes, if the Church had more money, it could employ more priests and it would then need less help from the laity. However, I am not in favour of increasing the amount we give to the Church (how about ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’? The fact that it was Karl Marx who said that should not put us off taking it as a good recipe for governance. IMHO and all that). If the Church had even less money, it might be forced to form a worship partnership with the laity.

I am sorry that your wife is stuck in the middle of this. But it needs someone (like a new Archbishop of Canterbury) to realise that the present situation is untenable and the way to get out of our hole is to make it easier for the laity to lead services of the word, which would relieve some of the pressure on the clergy. I also think it likely that the Church would have more success in recruiting Marthas to clean the church and polish the brass if the Marthas felt that they were not regarded as mere hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Phil Groom said...

Marx talked a lot of sense, I have no beef (or horse meat) with you there; and that’s the beauty of tithing: it’s about giving in proportion to one’s income. But as dear old Paul said, what we give is up to us, it’s between us and God, who “loves a cheerful giver” — I suggest the principle of the tithe as a guideline, certainly wouldn’t advocate it as a rule.

“If the Church had even less money, it might be forced to form a worship partnership with the laity” — seriously? The old “bricks without straw” approach? Kinda like the current government’s policy of restricting benefits to force people into work: look at these workshy bums – let’s cut them off where it hurts and they’ll have to go set up their own businesses. Starve them into submission!

No: clergy and laity are in this together; we need each other and cutting resources will only serve to restrict clergy, not to release laity. But methinks we’re in different worlds, thee and me: such is the diversity of the C of E. Perhaps it’s one of the differences of female clergy, or perhaps it’s one of her personal gifts, but wherever Sue has served, she seems to have facilitated more and more lay involvement. Not that I’m biased or seeing her through rose-tinted glasses or anything like that, you understand 🙂

Chris Fewings said...

Even the New Tories don’t expect very low earners to pay the same percentage of tax as moderate earners (in fact, the personal tax allowance has gone up substantially in the last couple of years). The church seems to have no concept of income thresholds.

Phil Groom said...

All part of why I said I wouldn’t lay it down as a rule: it’s a good principle to go by for those who can; and for those who can’t, what they choose to give is between them and God (and please note that use of the word ‘choose’). Some give money; some give time; some give themselves: let each give in accordance with what they have been given and do so freely — but let not those who stint in their giving complain when the resources they think should be there are not available…

18 January 2013 16:28
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Phil. Although maths is not my strong suit, I was going to make the same point as Joyce and Chris (I think) are making: 10% if you are on minimum wage is virtually impossible to gift. On the other hand, 10% tax-deductible sums are completely painless for millionaires. Tithing as such is an unfair concept, which is why I chose Marx’s prescription instead.

But I am interested in “those who…complain when the resources they think should be there are not available…”. Who are these people? Perhaps we should run reality-check courses for the ill-informed?!

18 January 2013 16:37
Chris Fewings said...

The CoE is a strange beast financially – in most denominations congregations take it for granted they have to pay for their minister and building – or they have a model which doesn’t need paid ministers or even a building. Of course this means they are often not represented in inner city areas.

The CoE historically had various ways of supporting its parish system (including tithes and property) which were related to its privileged economic and political position. 30 years ago it had a larger member-to-building ration, less to spend on clergy pensions, and hadn’t yet lost money on property speculation.

We’ve cut back on numbers of clergy and want laity to do more and give more, but it’s not in our DNA. Evangelical Anglican congregations seem to take more readily to this sort of model. The rest of us (from Lambeth to pew) seem to be in head-scratching mode – are we part of the establishment, like post offices, ruled centrally, or are we more like parent-run ‘free schools’ with a little light guidance from HQ? Sometimes we get the worst of both – told to participate and told how to participate.

I have no suggestions.

18 January 2013 18:37
Erika Baker said...

Chris, I would like to add to that that most churchgoes don’t seem to understand the first thing about church finance and seem to think that the parishes receive money from the Diocese rather than that they actually pay a parish share. And there is still the perception that the church is rich making lots of money from tourists and financial and property investments. When you look at large public performance like Royal Weddings and hear of top level meetings in far flung international places you could be forgiven for that impression and it would never occur to you that you are helping to pay for this with your pension.

18 January 2013 18:45
18 January 2013 13:54
18 January 2013 12:29
18 January 2013 11:08
18 January 2013 10:55
Erika Baker said...

I’m just so sad that there still seem to be so many parishes where laity aren’t given a formal role. We’re a benefice of 3 parishes with 1 priest and without the help of 2 Lay Readers and other taking Family Service we would simply not be able to function. There is a genuine sense of teamwork throughout the benefice. I hope it won’t be long before this becomes standard.

As for money, though, Phil – I hear what you say but I have not given a penny to the church for a long time now and I won’t until they agree to treat me and those like me as a fully equal member at all levels. In the meantime, I support my local church in deed rather than with cash and my more than tithed money goes to individuals or charitable organisations who aren’t happy to take my cash but otherwise preach against me.

And I’m not sure that most don’t give as much as they can. Our membership is shrinking an ageing and many are on fixed incomes, whereas the institutional church system is still the one we had when most people went to church on a Sunday. We need to be a bit more realistic about who we are, these days. And Laura’s campaign for increased lay representation is spot on for that reason too.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Erika. I think you are very lucky – and unusual – to have two Readers in a benefice of only three parishes. We are already a benefice of four parishes, and this is to morph into one of 10 parishes fairly shortly. For 10 parishes, we are promised one full time priest, with two (hoped-for) house-for-duty priests. We have no Readers, but we shall probably be all right, thanks to an army of Lay Worship Leaders.

Of course the George Herbert model would be very nice, but it is simply not on offer any more.

I am not trying to put anyone off becoming a Lay Reader – I think they do a marvellous job, and are not always used to the extent that they could (and should) be. However, realistically people need to take this on in mid-life, not begin in their sixties.

Erika Baker said...

Laura, I just realised that we actually have 3 Lay Readers now and we would have had 5 if Susan had been able to be re-licensed and I to be licensed after we got together. And in the parish of 1 village we were in before we also had 2 Lay Readers plus a trained and licensed Pastoral Assistant. I must have been extraordinarily lucky, I’ve never known anything but major lay involvement,

18 January 2013 19:13
18 January 2013 11:38
Phil Groom said...

Erika, I salute you! Were it within my power, you and all LGBT people would have absolute parity with everyone else. As things are, your attitude strikes me as laudably generous. One can only hope that our ABC designate is listening…

18 January 2013 12:36
18 January 2013 11:25
Chris Fewings said...

This is a preliminary response; I haven’t read the whole discussion. My main concern about “lay” ‘ministry of the word’ stems from my experience of a Roman Catholic parish in Honduras where I worked for four years in a rural development project which was under church auspices. Villages were lucky if the priest visited their ‘house of prayer’ once a year to celebrate the sacraments. It was not unusual for villagers to spend hours walking to the little town at the centre of the parish for various reason, so they sometimes attended mass there. So the church had a well established network of ‘delegates of the word’ – trained, literate lay preachers, though none had had the opportunity to attend secondary school.

As a result, many people’s experience of church was desacramentalised. They attended weekly services in the village house of prayer, but very rarely attended mass. (The sermons, unfortunately, tended to be long and rambling.) But previously, presumably, they had very rarely attended any service.

If that was what the Church of England offered (whatever the designation of the people conducted), I wouldn’t attend. The revival of weekly eucharist was one of the best things that happened in the CofE in the twentieth century and the greatest legacy of the Oxford Movement.

I think we’re barking up the wrong tree. Until recently, ‘priest’ usually meant ‘years of theological training + main preacher + celebrant of the eucharist + paid professional + parish manager’. Now, we are seeing more and more non-stipendiary priests. Even before this, lay readers and others had ascended to the pulpit. But we persist with the view that ordination as a celebrant of the life-giving mysteries, being a high calling, requires more rigorous selection and preparation than any other role. This I find odd.

I wrote about this in A Kingdom of Priests. Some people thought I was advocating ‘lay presidency’. Not at all. I’d be happier with ordination by a bishop, apostolic succession (or something very like it), bells, smells, chasubles… because these things enrich my sense of incarnate mystery.

The wider questions include
– how ‘laity’ has come to mean something different from ‘laos’, which includes everyone
– how two meanings of ‘priest’ have become confused: ‘presbuteros’ (elder) and ‘hieros’ (a priest at a sacrificial rite: in Jesus, our great high priest, we are collectively celebrants of the life-giving mysteries, but we have a representative individual to preside over the feast. If we have the same one every week, curious projections occur, and hierarchical thinking arises spontaneously.

Once posted, I won’t be able to delete or revise this, so I’d like to say it’s off the top of my head and no doubt riddled with error.

Erika Baker said...

Chris, I’m not entirely sure I understand what you mean by the definition of laity having changed. It’s everyone, but within that everyone some individual have always taken on specific roles. Often they require no training, like church cleaning, serving coffee after the service, handing out hymn books etc.,often some relevant expertise is required, such as for PCC Treasurers who ought to have a grasp of bookkeeping, and often special training is required, like for Lay Readers. That does not elevate them from among “everyone”.

The more responsible and specialist the role the more careful you have to be who ends up in it, and so a careful selection process for ordination makes sense. When you look at how often relationships between parishes and priests break down you can easily see that despite careful selection we still don’t always end up with priests who are really cut out for parish ministry. The Lay Reader works under the priest’s supervision, after all, and is only responsible for taking Services. Parish ministry is so much more than the weekly 10 o’clock and it is not very easy to remove priests. And if I look at the appalling level of theology that is often preached in the CoE I would suggest that there isn’t enough emphasis on proper training rather than too much.

As for losing the sacramental – the simple rule that a benefice must offer at least one Eucharist a week ensures that people don’t have to walk for miles for an annual Service.

Or have I misunderstood you?

Chris Fewings said...

I suspect my ideas are too left-field to be useful.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think they could well be useful, Chris. Left field sounds like a good place to look for new ideas, it is just that those of us who don’t know it find it difficult to grasp. Maybe it is something you would like to write about at some later date and in greater detail?

Erika Baker said...

Today’s local story of lay involvement. It snowed heavily, we had a wedding scheduled in our church, everyone was getting worried. The rector issued a call for help on the village website and people came out to clear the streets with tractors and any other equipment, someone collected the photographer from Bristol, the vicar was taken to the church in another tractor, the wedding party arrived on time, the bride only a little late. There was a large group of locals outside the church welcoming the bride when she made it… a bit wobbly after a stressful morning but safe and excited.
All went well!
I don’t know if any of these people tithes.

18 January 2013 17:48
18 January 2013 16:45
18 January 2013 16:40
Vernon said...

The rules prescribe ‘A’ celebration of communion in a parish a week. In some places (where they are still able to have a single priest for a single parish) there can be multiple eucharistic celebrations in the week and even on the same day in the same building. An early Sunday congregation has its own celebration, as does the mid morning Sunday congregation. The midweek eucharist celebrations have the same small group attending each, and they can often receive several times a week. It ceases to be a congregational celebration and becomes a personal act. The meal of unity loses its ability to unite the community.

Historically, in this particular situation, the celebration of communion was weekly early on a Sunday and monthly mid-morning until the mid 1960’s when the parish took on board the promotion of the Parish Communion Movement. The current desire for sacramental worship is unsustainable in many other places locally and further afield with clergy required to be mass priests running themselves ragged.

The Oxford Movement has left a legacy that in many places we cannot afford, has set unattainable expectations and it’s a legacy that has probably compounded the problems of over clericalisation of the CofE.

Chris Fewings said...

I’d definitely like chips with everything if I may. Maybe I’d be more in sympathy with the late Victorian ritualists than the Oxford Movement – I’m a bit hazy. Does Lay Anglicana fund study visits to the nineteenth century, Laura?

One of the riches of my childhood was three years in attendance at an Open Brethren church in Birmingham where there were no clergy but there was certainly weekly communion, presided over by an elder. This seemed richer in many ways than the hymn-prayer-reading-sermon sandwich of the Baptist church which I had attended previously.

I’m not drawn to forms of worship where prose and declarative statements are the main forms of expression. I experience the Eucharist as a multi-dimensional act of participative poetry. But the church must go wherever the caravan of love leads – it doesn’t exist for my benefit, and perhaps there are very few who experience it like I do.

19 January 2013 17:50
18 January 2013 22:12
18 January 2013 15:00
18 January 2013 13:56
Joyce Hackney said...

Chris,the Tories who in my working lifetime,according to my memory,took a lower percentage of tax from low earners (mine dropped from 36% under Labour of the mid-seventies to 20% under Nigel Lawson et al)are old men now. When I see them on the telly I’d hardly call them ‘New’ LOL. And I daresay the chancellors who devised the tax scales we used in Arithemtic lessons when I was at school in the fities and sixties are probably dead of old age by now. In those days the percentages went as high as 95% for high earners. 🙂 Joking and punning aside,the tricky thing when it comes to tithing,is what ‘income’ actually is. Is it the net salary,pension or benefit that goes into the bank after the government has taken its share ? Or is it the gross amount before deductions for tax and National Insurance ? Or is it what’s left over for us to decide what to do with after the bank has handed over the money to various bodies we have to pay in order to keep a roof over the heads of ourselves and the family? In very many cases,that latter amount is extremely small. If pensioners, unemployed people and low earners sat down and worked out 10% of what was disposable they might very well find their tithe is less than they are giving already. I have yet to meet a member of the clergy who appreciates this.

Phil Groom said...

I’m a low earner: a supermarket shelf stacker, on a rate of pay about midway between the minimum wage and the living wage (and it’s only that high because I’m on an unsocial hours premium). I regard my income as the money that goes into my bank account, so that’s after tax & NI, and I proceed from there. I’m not pretending that giving is easy; but it is possible, and most people could do better…

Lay Anglicana said...

‘Most people could do better’ – this is undoubtedly true. However, I do think that people need to feel they are giving to a deserving cause. A Church that excludes such a wide range of people and belittles a lot more is something that people are often half-hearted about supporting – and who can blame them? Now, if there were a collecting box in the sky marked ‘Towards the Kingdom of Heaven’, I expect it would be full to the brim!

Phil Groom said...

Yeah. Flippin’ nuisance, this deity who insists on working through human beings. Honest, you’d think the geezer’d ’ave more sense. Let ’im come & live amongst us for a while, we’ll show ’im…

layanglicana said...

Fair comment! 🙂

18 January 2013 17:09
18 January 2013 17:02
18 January 2013 16:43
Erika Baker said...

Do we have any reliable statistics for how much church goers give in relations to their income and whether church giving constitutes the large part of their charitable giving?

layanglicana said...

Thank-you for raising this, Erika, it would be interesting to look at this in slow time. When I say ‘look’, I imagine it is something the Church has indeed studied, and the results could hopefully be found on the website.

18 January 2013 17:11
18 January 2013 16:46
18 January 2013 16:38
18 January 2013 15:44
Matthew Caminer said...

There are so many issues here I almost don’t know where to start, but perhaps I could come at it from a different angle that brings us back to the Laura’s main theme…

I would be curious to know, if there were :
(i) an endless stream of men (yes men:hang in there for a moment!) offering for ordination and
(ii) a bottomless pot of money to fund a fully stipendiary ordained ministry
whether there would then be the same focus on promoting even current levels of lay involvement, locally ordained ministers, readers and, dare I say it, female clergy… They say that it’s an ill wind… but it has crossed my mind to wonder whether at least some of the votes for female ordination in the 1990s may have been occasioned not by the fundamental rightness and justice of it (yes!) but rather by financial expediency, along the lines of “we have a looming financial emergency. Female clergy won’t cost so much, if anything at all, so that is how we will plug the gaps”.

Where’s the evidence? Church of England statistics for the last few years show:
(a) an ever-growing proportion of SSMs (aka non-stipendiary priests) in the church,
(b) an ever-growing proportion of female priests in the church (good!)
(c) a very significant difference in the proportion of female priests who are SSMs compared with men. I can provide the data if you want, but it is in the public domain.

Actually, as someone married to a female self supporting (= husband supported!) minister, I feel that self-supporting ministry is in a sense the purest form of service.

This does not mean that I am against lay involvement and leadership: quite the contrary. If you remember my piece about the Cursillo movement, one its huge strengths is the way it encourages individuals, all individuals, to recognise their gifts and let them flourish where they are planted, something along the lines of 1 Cor 12. I believe that this is terribly important. It does not mean, however, that people should be up front either simply because they want to be, or because there is a gap that can’t be filled in other ways, or because they were disappointed at a BAP. It needs checks and balances, proper training, proper qualification, and for me a genuine sense of calling. Yes, that can be from the non-ordained (let’s be realistic: surely these days that is most non-Greek-speaking people’s understanding of laity?) but it must be because it is the right thing to do.

I too am glad you wrote the letter, Laura, though I don’t know what response you expect!!!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much Matthew-
Let me start at the end. I wrote it because it is probably the only opportunity I will ever have to put my point of view to an Archbishop of Canterbury. (I am not sure whether I will still be compos mentis by the time they appoint the next one, and even if I am, the fire may have gone out – another ten years of kicking against the pricks will pretty much finish me!). I also have great hopes of Bishop Justin – I appreciate that they may be dashed (I also had great hopes of Rowan Williams). As far as a response goes, I shall not be upset if I receive a message from a minion saying that it has been noted (the C of E ‘bug letter’ and that’s the last I ever hear). If I have anything more than that, I shall be very pleased. If something I have written triggers something that may lead to a change of policy, I would be thrilled. That about sums up the various possibilities, I think!

I am probably at odds with you on:
… does not mean, however, that people should be up front either simply because they want to be, or because there is a gap that can’t be filled in other ways, or because they were disappointed at a BAP. It needs checks and balances, proper training, proper qualification, and for me a genuine sense of calling. Yes, that can be from the non-ordained… but it must be because it is the right thing to do.
The problem is not that I disagree with you in principle but that I think these caveats are raising the bar too high: we are talking about finding people to read morning or evening service from the prayer book. It is akin to leading morning assembly in a school. There is no question of absolving, blessing or preaching, functions which would remain reserved to the priesthood. What training do I need to stand up and say ‘And now we will sing hymn number 262’?
I do not think it should be self-selecting – in Andover Deanery the approach is made to the individual by the incumbent after consultation with the PCC. Unlike Readers, for example, Lay Worship Leaders can be ‘sacked’ at the whim of the incumbent, who does not have to justify the decision or even give a reason: they serve at the incumbent’s pleasure.

Erika Baker said...

“There is no question of absolving, blessing or preaching, functions which would remain reserved to the priesthood.” We also have a lay worship team for family services. These people are not trained Lay Readers but they do take certain services. That’s already well established, I used to do it years ago. I agree you need the right people for it but I dare say your local parish and priest are better qualified at identifying them than any other group of people.
Are we making this unnecessarily complicated?

18 January 2013 21:58
Chris Fewings said...

The training some people would need is voice projection (even if using a microphone). Mumbled Bible readings are common enough in church I dare say.

19 January 2013 18:02
18 January 2013 21:50
Chris Fewings said...

Matthew, I also understand lay to mean non-ordained. I don’t speak Greek but take an interest in the derivation of words and also with playing with words. I shouldn’t written the ‘wider questions’ paragraph above; it was like a mental note to myself to carry on thinking (‘Did I say that aloud?’)

Your point about the distribution of genders and stipends in the priesthood is well made. I find the term ‘self-supporting minister’ odd, like the minister is cut loose on a little raft. Non-stipendiary minister seemed more straightforward and descriptive.

Matthew Caminer said...

Actually, Chris, I think your definition is worryingly accurate… Support for stipendiary clergy is patchy at best, but for self-supporting is minimal at best. I too enjoy thinking about word derivations, but have to be aware of current usage, otherwise I’d be saying ‘gay’ in all the wrong places!

19 January 2013 21:31
19 January 2013 18:12
18 January 2013 19:42
Joyce Hackney said...

“A Church that excludes such a wide range of people and belittles a lot more is something that people are often half-hearted about supporting.”
I can see why that would be, Laura. However,in all my life – and I’m months older than you – I can’t say I’ve often come across such a thing. Once or twice in a city-centre church I’ve seen noisy,disruptive drunks who think they should be allowed to behave as they like in a public building chucked out. Older churchgoers who’ve only been to rural or suburban churches may never have known of anyone’s being excluded or belittled. The only time I’ve heard anyone say they won’t give more is when we’ve been harangued about increasing the colection and they can’t afford it.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for your comments Joyce. I think we are agreed on the mathematical problem over tithing – it’s much harder for the poor than the rich!
What I wrote was meant as shorthand, and perhaps it would have been better to write it out in full. Some people who feel excluded are:
-the autistic, those with Aspergers etc. Have you come across Ann Memmott? She represents this group to the Church and has an uphill struggle in trying to secure accommodation for this numerically quite significant group;
-Lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans-gendered people who have felt harshly treated;
-the childless, such as my husband and I who were told we ‘need not’ come to the monthly family church services, since we had no children of our own.
-the introverted (see the blog post by Wendy Dackson and related comments)
There are probably other groups.

Joyce Hackney said...

I still don’t grasp what you mean,Laura.I have never seen anybody but a potentially dangerous troublemaker excluded from a church and I don’t know anybody who has. You have much more experience of the world than I have so perhaps it’s just that I have not been around enough. Church services in the only country I’ve lived in are open to any member of the public to take part in any time.
It takes ages to type anything in this box. An hour is nothing as it sticks and starts. It’s just been occurring to me while I’ve been waiting for it to unstick itself yet again that the word ‘feel’ might be what matters here. We can choose to feel excluded if we want to from any group of people. I’ve just heard Michael Portillo say Cornwall felt excluded.LOL. One group I can think of who might feel excluded is the sick or mobility-restricted who’ve found the church steps replaced by a ramp. If the church has people with breathing problems,sprained ankles or bad knees,uphill struggle is a good description of what’s been inflicted on them.They can’t even go one step at a time and rest if they’re on a slope. Everybody try the ramp next time you have a bad back. I often have to use a wheelchair and I find those idiotic ramps a nightmare.No way am I going to risk my neck attempting to get down one on wheels and trying to walk down with a stick is so much more strenuous than using steps that if I discover ramps are the only access and means of exit to any building,church or not,I don’t go there again. I’ve never for a moment considered feeling excluded,however. It’s annoying,certainly. Family services badly run and aimed at under-eights are annoying too if that’s all a church has to offer week after week. ( One of my godchildren’s mothers refused to go to them.)If a place isn’t what suits me I merely take my business elsewhere. I deprive them of me. They can jolly well do without my wonderful company or patronage. Their loss. The only gay people I’ve ever knowingly known both became mayor and were seen all over the place including churches,especially the cathedral. How a church as a church treats anybody harshly anyway I have no idea. I suppose an individual vicar can turn nasty towards a paricular person or show ingratitude for service that’s been given.I’m racking my brains here.
Yes I remember Ann Memmott. Yes,I read Wendy’s blog but the site doesn’t let me post a reply,which I suppose is being excluded in a way.Generally speaking,I would be very surprised,going back to the point we were talking about,if any significant number of churchgoers were sufficiently aware of – or concerned about – any of this excluded-group feeling to let if affect their giving. No doubt you know some people who are aware and concerned,Laura,which is why you mentioned it. I see us all moving from one group to another as we go through life and we may or may not find we need to move around to find a better fit. We’re in the youth group one day and a weekend later we’re in the over-sixties. We are able-bodied one Sunday and the next we have a leg in plaster or a stroke. We are single, married, widowed. We are responsible for bringing children to church and we’ve no sooner helped them get the hymn book the right way up than they’re twenty five and they’re the ones filling our Christmas stocking,usually with things like magnifying bookmarks,easy-grip forks or jar-openers. As for being extrovert or introvert I can change from one to the other and back again in one day. Other people’s sexuality we tend whatever group we’re in to mind our own business about and stay private about our own. Something I really have seen is members of a congregation move to another church more to their liking when their familiar one changes in a way they don’t like. I’ve seen it twice and it was a group of four to six both times. That would mean they take their giving with them but they don’t expect those who stay or newcomers who are attracted to refrain from giving.

Lay Anglicana said...

When I say ‘exclude’ I am not talking about bouncers ushering people to the door and physically manhandling them until they are on the other side of it! The exclusion I mean is something like your experience as a wheelchair user, the feeling that you are not welcome. This is sometimes made explicit, by deed or word, sometimes simply conveyed by a glance. Sometimes, no doubt, it is imagined.

If you are having problems commenting, may I suggest you write them out separately first, and then cut and paste?

Joyce HAckney said...

Laura,if copying and pasting worked, as it did until a few weeks ago, I would still do it. Now when I right-click the box on this page it just turns black. Thanks for the suggestion anyway. I noticed when my post came up on the site it all looked as though there was only one long paragraph which would be tedious to read, especially at speed. I said I did realise eventually you were using ‘excluded’ in another way from the one I’d at first thought. I wasn’t familiar with the type of exclusion you meant either, so I thought about it until I came up with a group.
I’d like to confirm that absolutely nobody has ever said or done anything to make me feel excluded or unwelcome as a wheelchair user nor have I chosen to feel so. I was saying that many people ( including me ) are quite literally ‘excluded’ from certain buildings,such as older churches,by the removal of steps. A ramp can be a very useful addition indeed but a terrible substitute. That is a fact for those who come up against the problem, not a matter of a feeling. I can’t imagine anybody using it as an excuse for financially punishing the CofE though unless they are among those personally affected and are forced to give up going to church.

21 January 2013 21:01
21 January 2013 18:07
21 January 2013 15:58
18 January 2013 21:31
18 January 2013 21:02
Mike Nash said...

Thanks Laura!

In my opinion if there’s anything approaching a “silver bullet” to cure the ills of the dear old CofE its greater laity involvement. Out in the country here where we’re being monstered into benefices of as many as 10 parishes or more and with dearly loved parishioners being shipped off to distant homes, hospitals and hospices our very few clergy just cannot give us the support and guidance we need. But some have made the changes – a nearby benefice of five parishes with only one cleric has a service every Sunday in every church, but as she said “I can’t do it all on my own!” The team she’s developed does most of it for her thereby enabling her to concentrate on essentials, the parts that Chris Fewing (I think) would consider as work that only a cleric should do.

But no matter what you might wish as the “correct” division/heirarchy/management structure, without much greater laity involvment it will all turn to worms. And from what I see around me, there’s many who’ll step forward to assist. What a shame that there’s so little encouragement, selection or training available to take advantage of this opportunity!

Regards, Charley Farns-Barns.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks – I of course agree 🙂

18 January 2013 21:33
18 January 2013 21:11


I too am pleased you wrote the letter. I hope you get a considered response.

It would be good to have a public discussion on the issues you raise. One advantage of having it online is that it’s possible to say what you think about how clergy treat lay people without having to personalise everything. (I know good, hard working. loved clergy who just cannot see how they patronise and marginalise the lay members of their church.)

A few disconnected points:
1) Part of the issue is what ‘episcopal’ means. A 1940s ecumenical venture foundered in part because (it was said) the Anglicans were adamant that bishops were essential – they just couldn’t agree amongst themselves what they meant by bishops.

There is a wide range of relationships between bishops – clergy – people across the Communion and there’s scope for the CofE to learn from it.

2) Every procession embodies (very exactly) church hierarchy. Ditch them.

3) Stop labelling lay people by their roles in relation to worship (‘worship leader’, ‘lay reader’, etc.) and stop the bishop’s control over who may do every little gradation of activity – why on earth is it necessary to licence people to administer the bread and wine? Instead treat worship as a corporate act in which all participants have their role, no-one is unimportant and who does what may vary as opportunity, willingness, gifts and the poetry of worship suggest.

4) On one agreed Sunday all those congregations which cannot afford their building (especially if ancient and listed) should up and leave and hand in the keys to their MP. It would save a fortune and, after the initial shock, release all kinds of energies.

Finally. Lay people should not be ’empowered’. They are perfectly capable. Instead clergy and bishops should stop behaving in ways which prevent people fully exercising their responsibilities as God’s people. Lay people run the rest of the world. Why shouldn’t lay people run the church with clergy and bishops exercising truly servant ministries?

(I was once told – and it’s always seemed true to me – that when the CofE thinks of itself as a servant church, what it has in mind is a senior civil servant. Other models are available.)

Chris Fewings said...

I’d like more processions. They don’t have to be hierarchical, do they? I quite like the idea of the shepherd bringing up the rear – I think mitres are problematic, symbolising earthly authority, but I like crooks (or croziers or whatever they’re called).

In general I’d like to see more ceremony with wider participation in the ceremony, less formality and certainly less hierarchical authority.

I’m particularly interested in how serving at the altar can be a way for 8-11 year olds to participate intimately in the Eucharist in a non-verbal way.

Matthew Caminer said...

But they do, with great ability and intimacy, as servers, candle bearers and the like

19 January 2013 21:33
19 January 2013 17:35
18 January 2013 22:10
Chris Fewings said...

Could Lay Celebration Renew the Church of England? – a post on this blog by John Richardson from April last year, followed by a long discussion.

19 January 2013 19:22
Matthew Caminer said...

On further reflection, I am a little curious to dig a little further.

I can hardly think of a church that I know, of whatever flavour candle-wise, which is not sustained and enlivened by lay involvement on a hugely wide variety of fronts, including of course, up front ministerial ones, but equally all the things that it’s so easy to take for granted, and which we would only notice if they stopped happening. Just go through the list of office bearers or the people in some churches wearing a badge that says they do “xxx ministry”, and you can quickly see what would happen if all the existing lay involvement simply stopped. People may have roles, they may be called to do things, but it doesn’t mean they have all, again quoting 1 Cor 12, to be ‘the eyes’. Is there some sense of ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ ministries? I certainly don’t think so, but I do believe that some people are qualified to be ‘the eyes’ and some not!

I think perhaps that this discussion needs to be informed by a shared understanding of how most clergy actually spend their time, only a small proportion of which relates to preparing and leading services, and therefore understanding quite what sort of lay involvement it is that is being promoted.

Chris Fewings said...

As I understand Laura’s post, she is responding to a situation, particularly in rural areas, where parishes may no longer have weekly services. The other main thread in the post, as I read it, is about the management style or leadership style of some clergy and bishops, and the perceptions they have of their role.

20 January 2013 00:18
19 January 2013 22:21
Matthew Caminer said...

Today’s three services at our two village churches have helped me to understand what is troubling me about what new response is expected from the incoming ABC to Laura’s letter, that isn’t already there. Let me explain…

Despite atrocious weather, we had all three services today, a BCP said Eucharist, a ‘service-of-the-word family service and a Common Worship sung communion. The lay involvement in these services, all within Canon Law, none of it requiring the ABC or anyone else to give permission, was:

BCP Communion (at Mission Church building)
– Flower arranging in advance
– Cleaning and polishing in advance
– Sidesman
– Linen washing and ironing
– Server
– Lesson reader
– Intercessions

Family service (at Mission Church building)
– Musicians (3)
– Prior preparation of powerpoint slides
– Operator of powerpoint slides
– Children lighting the candles (2)
– Children taking the collection (2)
– Sunday School teachers (4)
– Lesson reader
– Coffee servers/washers up (4)

CW Eucharist (at Parish Church)
– Cleaning and polishing in advance
– Sidesmen (2)
– Organist
– Verger
– Server
– Choir (5 – reduced numbers due to snow)
– Lesson Readers (2)
– Intercessions
– Coffee servers/washers up (members of the choir)
– Healing ministry after the service (2 people)

I have probably missed a few tasks, roles and ministries here, but that is 41 different lay people giving their time, energy, skills etc in a very wide variety of tasks. They complemented the work of the two priests involved, and without that involvement, the two priests could not have coped, or else would have been overworked, or else the services themselves would have been severely lacking . The point is that neither the last ABC nor the next one, to whom Laura is writing, needs to give permission for any of this to happen, and as far as I know this level of lay involvement goes on all over the place

I believe that four main reasons for there being little or no lay involvement are:

1. “Yes I want it to happen (whatever it is) so long as someone else does it!”
2. “Yes, I’ll offer my time provided I can do what I want to do”
3. The clergy want to protect their leadrship position
4. The congregation colludes with the priest in a sort of children/parent relationship

I’ll add a fifth, because it is close to my heart, though I am not personally afflicted: clergy AND their spouses keeping things going on multiple fronts, threatening their health and family life by doing everything, because that is what people impose on them and they haven’t learned to say ‘no’.

I think all of these apply all over the place, (even or especially the fifth) but what it needs is changes of hearts and minds and a generous working of the Holy Spirit, not someone to give permission.

So then it seems to come down to two issues, one of personality/psychology etc, the other practical/logistical/strategic.

The personality/pyschology one may relate to an aspiration to be up front, leading, preaching, presiding, much of which is already done by non-ordained people all over the place, with licences where required, but with few impediments to granting those licences. The up-side of this is very positive and feeds the health of the church. The downside, if based on underlying jealousy, envy etc would be less desirable, and I hope there isn’t too much of that about, but people are human…

And that leaves the practical/logistical/strategic, how to juggle the desire for services across wide areas with small congregations, insufficient clergy and insufficient funds to run and maintain church buildings, let alone pay stipends. I think that this is the only area in which the ABC, through changes to canon law, might intervene, but I am struggling to see what is not already available, whether through formal lay accreditation, licensing by the local bishop, or simply just do it!

All that remains is the sacramental, and I for one would have a problem with introducing lay presidency at the Eucharist and other forms of sacramental leadership, but perhaps that is natural given that I have just supported my wife through the lengthy journey to ordination! In other words, what was the point of her journey to priesthood if the same vocational selection, training and formation were not to be required for non-ordained people to do the same things?

So, to cut a very long story short, have I missed the point here, and if so, what is the central issue that I have missed?

20 January 2013 15:45
Lay Anglicana said...

Matthew, we are indeed talking at cross-purposes. I am not talking about those who keep the show on the road in a purely physical sense – doing the flowers, washing the linen, polishing the brass, keeping the books etc etc. I call these the Martha functions, simply as shorthand. If you read the earlier posts I link to in my letter to Bishop Justin, this will be clear, I think.

I am talking about lay people who, in being given the authority to lead worship, are in a position, I suppose, to inflict spiritual damage on people. I call these the Mary functions. They include leading intercessions, but not reading the lesson, playing the organ, singing in the choir etc etc.

Since we are quoting civil service practice, let me cite the standard threat assessment. First you assess what damage someone could do if they abused their position. In the case of the Martha functions, no harm would be done. In the case of the Mary function, although I have said they are not allowed to absolve, bless or preach, they do seek God’s absolution and blessing through the use of the plural pronoun (‘we’, not ‘I’) together with the rest of the congregation. They also – and this is where the danger lies – have to fill the sermon slot. But they are not to sermonise. This classic CofE fudge leaves the door wide open to abuse.

A small example – and here I am tellling tales out of school! One of our lay worship leaders, a conservative evangelical, is much given to waving his bible at the congregation and saying ‘after all, what else have we got?’. So far, I have managed not to heckle ‘what about Hooker?’ or ‘what about 2,000 years of the working of the Holy Spirit?’. (But it is probably only a matter of time).

The threat assessor would then ask, ‘how serious is this threat?’. Depending on the answer, appropriate measures would be found to counter the threat.

Until now the CofE has done this, of course unconsciously, by making it as difficult as possible for a lay person to qualify to lead worship, the idea being that this will put off all but the most driven.

The proposal I am making here is simply that the Church allow for the checks and balances already built into the system (the backing – initially and continuously – of the incumbent and the PCC) to suffice as control.

Chris Fewings said...

If you do heckle, Laura, don’t forget to post it on youtube.

20 January 2013 22:40
20 January 2013 17:31
Matthew Caminer said...

Point taken, Laura, and thanks for the clarification. I think that there might be a middle road where at least one external person provides an objective but informal assessment (vocations advisor? area dean?) to ensure that local ‘filters’ are not taking the decision in the wrong or right direction. Otherwise, I think I agree violently!

Lay Anglicana said...

As I think I explained somewhere upstream, the procedure in our deanery is that, once a candidate has been identified by the incumbent and PCC, he or she attends the next training course, which is organised by the Area Dean, drawing on whatever resources in the deanery she (in our case) deems fit.

21 January 2013 18:03
20 January 2013 17:48

Awesome, Laura. Good for you! I have no idea how we can ‘fix’ this….clergy think they’re the linchpin, laity think the vicar is charge/does everything and dishes out jobs…We have a model in Auckland called Local Shared Ministry (for parishes so small they can no longer afford a priest) where the people run their own parish, assisted by an enabler (ordained). Eucharistic services still seem to be the focus and with a team leadership run by busy volunteers process is frustratingly slow and the general attitude seems to be when suggestions are made: who’s responsibility is this? While they should say the one who suggests it might want to be doing most of the organising…..
Last year I got this response to my suggestion that there are plenty of services in the prayer book that do not not require a priest and not every service needs to have communion forced into it….”but we’re Anglican, that’s what we do, it’s not church otherwise…..”
I have only ever been in one parish where the minister saw himself as the facilitator. Vestry members had responsibilities, incl pastoral, parishioners were trained to lead small groups and a very competent vestry member, a business man, chaired the parish council and community meetings. every effort was made to allow the parishioners to get to know each other better, outside church services. We all usually had somewhere to go for coffee and/or lunch after church.
Training for lay people is goo – very good. We have very little and college seem to focus on the professional life and hardly know what to do with interested lay people. One head of a theological college here told me they were about ministry and without a piece of paper from the bishop I wasn’t getting into classes. If I was really keen on papers in say NT intro I needed to go to the university…..
In local shared ministry the bulk of the training goes to the sacramental ministers. And of course the training is done by ordained people, so sacramental ministry is what they know best.
Our parish has a large team of preachers, who muddle through…….not too badly, but I think a good training course would facilitate better preaching and perhaps bible study and I am always hoping that some study will lead people to want to know more about the bible and its contents. That might just revive the whole parish…I am perhaps foolishly thinking. I find that sermon preparation (but then: I have a Bible College degree ands did homiletics) extremely good for the soul….
It seems the church does not know what to do with the extremely keen lay-person…..

22 January 2013 18:33
Pam Smith said...

Fascinating discussion Laura.

I’ve just been asked to go to a local church and preside at an ‘informal communion’ following their All Age Worship. The All Age Worship is being led by two lay people who, AFAIK, have no particular formal licence to do so – they are doing so purely on the authorisation of their vicar. If the Bishop is keen to see lay ministry developing I don’t think this is such a massive problem, and there are local course both in preaching and in worship leading for those who want to explore it. (Although one does happen to be a churchwarden but I don’t think she’s leading because of that.)

I’ve been going there to cover for a few years now, and it’s been fascinating to see these two people develop from doing notices, to doing what the vicar calls an ‘introduction to the service’ – an all age teaching activity based on the reading before the children go out to their group – and now leading a non-Eucharistic service once a month.

Why ask me in at all? The vicar’s reason is that it would be a bit much to ask people to preside at a communion by extension after leading the rest of the morning.

I think this shows a couple of important things about developing lay worship leading.

1) It’s not just about finding the right people, but allowing them to develop their confidence, abilities and standing as worship leaders in the church rather than throwing them in at the deep end.

2) Presiding at worship – whether as a priest or lay leader – is demanding and tiring. So people need to be resourced and supported, not just left to get on with it.

Another very important thing which has been mentioned by Laura is that if you aren’t licensed by the Diocese then your position as a lay leader is very vulnerable. A Reader who isn’t being offered opportunities by her/his vicar can go and see the Bishop and talk about being redeployed, but someone who has a less formal ministry isn’t very redeployable. Licensing therefore gives some ‘job security’.

23 January 2013 09:37
themethatisme said...

These things are of ‘permissions’ and as with most permissions, the manner and qualification under which they are granted does not shift and change as rapidly as the culture in whiich they are set. Not the least of the problem in the C of E is that it still ties the qualification to post, to a qualification academic. Whilst there are many new variations and developments in terms of providing training and expertise to the ‘lay’ person, the permission is still tied to a set currculum at a set level in order to fulfill a specific function…and then we are faced with the question of calling.

Having been an active member since the age of 11 engaged in worship delivery, teaching children from the age of 14, leading house study, lent groups, youth work, 6 years as a parish youth worker, 9 years on bishop’s staff, preaching teaching facilitating worship, training and teaching, 11 years as a churchwarden excercising the wardens right to lead worship (two interregna) – Now that I am no longer in the employ of or a churchwarden of – I have to go back to square one in order to exercise the skills and abilities, gifted and developed through these 35 years. I have to sign up for 2/3 years of training providing I convince a panel of the already approved as to my calling to a ‘specific’ role, and my commitment and dedication to the church.

… all I wish to do is serve my parish and it’s priest with what I have, how hard do we have to make it for that to happen?

Great letter, I distinctly hope that we see movement…

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you. I don’t entirely blame the Church – I think over the years they have been criticised for general woolliness and this possible over-emphasis on training hoops may be a defence against that. As I say, in my view oversight by the PCC and incumbent (not to mention the congregation who, in my experience, are quick to let you know when you are getting it wrong!) should be ample.

26 January 2013 21:04
26 January 2013 18:12

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