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Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing?


It is possible that the Church of England is about to invent Wikichurch.

It seems highly unlikely that it is intending to do so but, as we know from the law of unintended consequences, the original drafters of a programme do not necessarily long retain their control of its development.

What makes this extraordinary proposition a possibility? Well, having kept the aspirations of the laity successfully repressed for a couple of millennia, the Church is now so desperate about its prospects for survival that it seems to have concluded that only the laity can save the day.

I happen to agree, but then I would, wouldn’t I?


What would Wikichurch amount to? Well, here is Wikipedia’s definition of wiki:

A wiki  is an application… which allows collaborative modification, extension, or deletion of its content and structure…While a wiki is a type of content management system, it differs from a blog or most other such systems in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little implicit structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users… Wikis can serve many different purposes both public and private, including knowledge management, notetaking, community websites and intranetsWard Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. “Wiki“… is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick”.

My evidence for this sweeping statement? Well, I am gradually ploughing through the vast mountain of paper that has been produced for the General Synod which begins on Monday. ‘Re-imagining Ministry’ is one of the aims of the quinquennium (see GS Misc 1025 and 1054 for starters). And Archbishop Justin began his archiepiscopate by declaring: we live in a time of revolutions.

On almost every page of the papers for this General Synod is a reference to placing greater reliance on the contribution of lay people, and GS 1979, for example, talks of ‘an aspiration to see numbers of volunteer lay ministers of different kinds grow by 48% (to over 17,500)’ (para 45). The numbers of paid lay ministers would grow by 69% to over 2,000.

Let us round this up to 20,000 lay ministers operating in the Church of England. Wow! I can see alarmists heading for the hills, but sometimes it is worth taking a risk. And the risk is what exactly? Lay ministers can be presumed all to be followers of Christ. Whether or not they have any financial reward, they are sticking their head over the parapet and risking criticism by their peers (congregations, fellow lay ministers and clergy) if they get it wrong. Some may be more gifted than others, but it must be a working presumption that they are well-intentioned.

What do you say? About time we made full use of the whole Body of Christ? Or doomed to failure?

“Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.”
Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Let us pray…

23 comments on this post:

Wendy Dackson said...

Well, the laity have been redefining and shaping church whether the clergy and official structures like it or not, for those two millennia. It’s not that anything new is being “invented,” really–more that there’s finally a recognition that without what the laity have been doing, there will be no future church.

05 February 2015 13:31
Lay Anglicana said...

Absolutely – you express it more elegantly and pithily! But yes, I agree that if it happens (as it seems it will, unless the powers that be fight a major rearguard action) it will be more a question of the hierarchy recognising that the laity need to be heard.

Wendy Dackson said...

Not just heard–properly trained, vetted, incorporated into and accommodated within existing structures, assessed for performance, ethics, and accountability.

Lay Anglicana said...

Agreed, though I am about to suggest that training should be at a minimum for the lowest grade (lay worship leaders/lay elders). Continuous assessment by parish priest and congregation, combined with supportive network of fellow lay ministers and deanery clergy outside one’s own parish are what I found most helpful. The training should all have taken place over the years as part of the congregation… (debatable I know!)

Erika Baker said...

Again, all I can say is that in good parishes, this already happens. There is training for parish visitors, pastoral assistants, lay readers, lay church leaders, and continuous training for all of them. I’ve never known a church where this did not happen.

Laura Sykes said...

But I am suggesting that they should not be trained! (I am only talking here about the category sometimes called lay worship leaders, sometimes lay elders, who are chosen as ‘elders of the tribe’, ie they may have been Christians for 40, 50 or even 60 years. )

The actual training that I was offered was minimal and of no particular use. What was essential was the team building and prayer with other lay worship leaders. I would also have valued more meetings on a regular basis with other LWLs in the deanery (and in fact this has now happened).

05 February 2015 16:15
Erika Baker said...

You can’t do it without any training. You need to know which parts of worship are liturgically necessary and where they go. You would need to plan your service, maybe in a group, overseen by your priest until you were all comfortable with it and until you and the congregation were happy with the end result.

It doesn’t need a certificate, but it does need training and some kind of continuous feedback system. There are too many lay leaders who are left alone to struggle, too many who bore the congregation rigid or pitch their services wrong. It’s much better to work in a team, learning from each other, i.e. being trained.

Our Family Service is completely lay led, but it did need training so that people knew how to put together an all-age Service that had enough for everyone at the right level, how long each section could be etc.

05 February 2015 16:25
Wendy Dackson said...

Why is the idea of training offensive? Having trained both OLM and Readers, and seen what they’ve concocted for in-house worship with their peers, some of it is appalling. I was very relieved that they *hadn’t* put some of this forward in public settings.

05 February 2015 17:52
05 February 2015 15:49
05 February 2015 15:09
05 February 2015 14:59
05 February 2015 13:58
minidvr said...

I wonder? If you’re defining Lay Ministers as those who lead worship of some sort or another or perhaps deliver pastoral care than it’s quite a narrow category.

For me the definition of Lay Ministers needs to be wider to recognise the ministry of the unseen volunteers, who quietly get on with running the church. Those who clean, wash, press, serve, flower arrange, sing in choirs, who garden, weed and tidy, remove rubbish, who do paperwork, run the various societies associated with church such as Mothers Union, Christian Aid, Children’s society, guides, scouts, beavers etc and so on. Those who make the tea, those who bake cakes, those decorate the church for festivals and seasons. Those who serve on PCC, Deanery and Diocesan Synod and other supporting roles.Those who lead home group, prayer groups, prayer ministry and more.Those who give weekly or monthly to resource the church. The list is probably endless, given the diversity and dispersal of the church across the country.

I should think that these vital ministries would number in the hundreds of thousands, who are already empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things that might not be public facing, but are nevertheless, vital in allowing worship to to happen, clergy to be paid their expenses, to have Sabbaticals to be had, and for Clergy to concentrate on mission, pastoral care, ongoing professional development, clergy chapter (fellowship), down even to the roof over their head. (Although, I know that Clergy housing was snatched away from parishes some decades ago).

Not everyone is called to serve in public facing roles, and in my view, without those who serve behind the scenes, nothing would get done, unless a lot more slowly.

The leaders of the church are in panic mode as they see their reason for being threatened. How many Bishops do we really need? How many lawyers, financiers, theologians and colleges do we really need? These are all questions that occur to me in the pews, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. The millstone of Establishment shackles the church with legal stuff, which is irrelevant to the mission that Jesus gave us – to go out and to make disciples. short and sweet and the church increased when we did that. Not when we sat behind desks and produced report after report and strategic visions for a tiny element of the church (Clergy) in some sort of protectionist mentality.

If the church wan’t a revolution, than it doesn’t need to look any further than this blog and some of the people who come here to find out about empowering laity, not to the General Synod papers.

Lay Anglicana said...

I rather doubt whether the Church hierarchy really wants a revolution – it wants change that it can control, which is not quite the same thing.

I agree that we need to define terms – which none of the papers that I have seen does. However, since they are so specific about numbers, I imagine they are only talking about people who lead services.
Certainly we need to maintain the other roles, but not I would have thought increase those concerned by a factor of 48% or 69%.

It would definitely be helpful to know whether they see pastoral teams coming into this category. There is the perennial problem that the sick and housebound are mostly hoping to be visited by the vicar, or at the very least, a non-stipendiary priest. My experience is that lay pastoral visitors are less welcome, but this may be because you are better at this side than I am, Ernie!

05 February 2015 15:16
05 February 2015 14:51
Erika Baker said...

I’m not sure how Wiki fits into this… I may not be thinking straight.
We already have parishes that are brilliant at utilising the skills of lay people in a variety of roles, including authorise Pastoral and Reader ministries. We need to extend this to parishes who, for some odd reason, don’t yet do this.
But I don’t feel qualified to comment, I’ve only ever known parishes that were extremely good at encouraging, developing and utilising lay people.

Lay Anglicana said...

No, you are thinking straight Erika, it is my use of language which is fuzzy. I honestly thought I had invented the word Wikichurch, but this is apparently not the case. There is an interesting-looking book by Stephen Murrell – see His introduction includes the following:
“In 2001, one year after Nupedia had launched, Wales and Sanger started Wikipedia as a feeder system for Nupedia. The idea was to allow non-pros, non-scholars and non-experts to write articles that the Nupedia scholars would review. The articles would then make their way through the extensive Nupedia approval process. By the end of 2001, volunteers had submitted more than 20,000 ‘wiki’ articles. It took the experts three years to create twenty-four articles, and the non-experts one year to create twenty thousand articles. At the time of this writing, contributors from around the world had submitted more than 17,000,000 Wikipedia articles and, according to an independent survey, most are as accurate as traditional encylopedia entries written by recognized experts. Unfortunately, many churches today function more like Nupedia than Wikipedia. They allow only credentialed professionals to lead evangelism and discipleship efforts, while volunteers are expected to show up and pay up, but not engage in serious ministry. Imagine if the situation were reversed.”

My idea is that, by raising the number of lay ministers (I think what is meant is those leading worship) to nearly 20,000 this will inevitably change the organisational character of the Church, involving the devolution of power making it much less hierarchical.

I am glad that you have always been involved in churches which are open to lay ministry, but I think even these will be affected. We shall see of course – one should never underestimate the forces of conservatism in the Church of England!

05 February 2015 15:42
05 February 2015 15:09
Lay Anglicana said...

Erika, I’m sorry, I am trying to reply to your point about training but I seem to have reached the limit of allowed replies and it won’t allow me to in situ.

We are talking slightly at cross-purposes. Our Lay Worship Leaders are normally only allowed to use Morning/Evening Prayer from Common Worship (or their equivalents from the BCP) so there is no question of their tinkering with the liturgy on their own (shock, horror!)

I do know an LWL who invented an animal service, but he discussed it in advance with the priest in charge. Similarly, if an LWL were to take an All-Age service of the word on his or her own, the text would be agreed in advance with the priest. Are your lay ministers what we used to call Lay Readers, ie trained? The training of LWLs in Andover Deanery is 6-8 evenings in successive weeks – not long enough to let them loose on re-writing the liturgy?

My idea (because I do indeed know examples of all the pitfalls you cite) is that, first of all, the ‘formation’ needs to start with the 6-8 evenings, which I would describe as a team-building exercise. Subsequently, these teams need to meet regularly (we met every six months at a session led by the Area Dean) where they can share problems and good practice.I would call this after-care, and it’s very important.

We were commissioned by the bishop, which I valued enormously. There was talk of the Area Dean doing this in future – I am not sure whether this happened or not but I think there should be some sort of ceremony (allowing God a chance to do his bit!).

And finally, reviews between priest and LWL need to be carried out – first after 3 month probation, say, then six monthly and finally yearly. Our deanery introduced a sort of written undertaking to do this, as well as to study independently. It needs to be understood all round that not everyone is in the event suited to this sort of ministry, and there needs to be the possibility of the LWL standing down without ill-feeling.

Erika Baker said...

Laura, our licensed Lay Readers can take any Service that does not involve Communion, although they can also plan and run all parts of a Communion Service with the exception of the actual Communion.

Our Family Service team have had the kind of training you’re describing, although they are not licensed by the bishop.
Our Parish Visitor team had diocesan training, especially listening skills, and has been commissioned by someone in the Diocese… could have been the bishop, I don’t recall.
The Sunday School team has has the kind of training you talk about but is answerable only to the priest.

Certainly for licensed lay ministries, there are regular and formal review meetings. I don’t know what happens to the other groups but I would expect there to be regular informal review meetings.

05 February 2015 17:31
05 February 2015 17:00
matthewcaminer said...

So many interesting strands of discussion here, I hardly know where to begin with my input, but here goes, in no particular order:

1. Is this ‘revolution’ the result of divine Inspiration, or is it a pragmatic response to financial challenges? If the former, great, wonderful, and we ignore it at our peril. But if the latter, please, let’s be open and honest about it, rather than clothe it with non-existent noble motivations.

2. As several people have already observed, lay involvement in worship and non-worship is already a central part of many churches. The drive from the centre is not revolutionary at all, but simply pushing for more of the same

3. The current headlong rush into mega-benefices is already resulting in teams that typically comprise (mostly male) full time stipendiaries, supported by (mostly female) full time or part time non-stipendiaries, readers, youth workers, pastoral assistants etc etc – in other words, a heavy weighting towards lay leadership already.

(The male/female observation isn’t meant to be controversial, by the way – simply a statistical reflection of the fact that there i a 50/50 split between male/female ordinations, but over two thirds of female ordinations are about eight years older than men, and are consistently self-supporting, whereas only a fifth of male ordinations are self-supporting – full details in the excellent CofE statistics publications)

4. Yes, of course, there are many, many non-worship church roles undertaken by lay people, and without them churches would be very much the worse. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all better at thanking them!?

5. I feel very cautious about lay leadership of worship without any training, as Laura seems to suggest. Provided they stick precisely to the printed liturgy, well, maybe ok. But preaching? Dangerous. What and how are they going to preach and with what safeguards to ensure it is orthodox as opposed to heresy or muddle-headed but plain wrong mis-leading (hyphen deliberate) of the folks in the pews. And by the way, even standing up and saying “We will now sing hymn XXX, which reminds us that YYY etc” is preaching of a sort (I hate those links, but it takes all sorts!) and carries the same risks as formal sermons or homilies.

6. I may be a bit defnsive because I sat alongside my wife going through selection, ordination, training and curacy, but a lot of what is being debated seems to be diluting the whole meaning of ordination, and again I sense that it comes from financial pragmatism, not from divine inspiration. One could have whole discussions about the meaning of ordination, be it ontological or simply a graduation, but I do think that people have been set apart as spiritual leaders, and perhaps they provide the sort of safeguards that I was talking about in the previous bit.

There was more, but I think I’d better leave it at that for the moment

Lay Anglicana said...

Is the initiative pragmatic or divine (of course it could be both, but let’s not split hairs!): One of the reasons I am saying that training at the lay worship leader/lay elder level is not necessary is that the cost of greatly increasing this tier is zero. Tea and biscuits perhaps, but nothing else. No need to open the coffers of the Church Commissioners. Should be an attractive prospect.

I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should be allowed to preach at this level of worship leading – it was the one instruction that was stressed every week for 8 weeks, to make sure we got it. And anyone saying ‘we will sing hymn X, which reminds us that Y’, ie preaching by subterfuge, would be slapped down in a trice.

This level of lay worship leader only exists in a very few dioceses, which is why it is unfamiliar to our readers. But, given the difficulty in attracting Licensed Lay Ministers/Lay Readers, it is the most realistic starting point, I would suggest. In fact, LLMs should probably start off at this level, while continuing to study to be an LLM in parallel.

matthewcaminer said...

Interestingly, there is an almost direct correlation between the fall in numbers of Readers who are licensed each year and a corresponding rise in female ordination over the last ten years. I’d be interested to know the background to that switch, which actually sounds like a move away from lay ministry rather than towards the incease that is apparently being sought.

05 February 2015 21:13
05 February 2015 21:07
05 February 2015 17:36
matthewcaminer said...

I did have one other observation, which is nothing to do with worship or even parishes, but about the use of the talents and experience of lay people in the running of the church. My experience has been that even though diocesan offices are generally very overstretched, there is a tendency to build emotionally protective barriers that exclude unsalaried lay people from within the diocese contributing in a meaningful way, when their experience in all sorts of fields (computing? finance? organisational change? people management? architecture? maintenance? electronics? etc etc) could be called on as a pool of internal consultants at no charge. Rather than (or at least as well as) blurring the edges between ordained, trained and untrained in terms of worship/parish leadership, there is huge mileage in dioceses understanding what exists out there to help them do their job, rather than seeing it as intrusion. Yes, I have experienced this and have strong feelings about it. How did you guess?!

05 February 2015 17:47
minidvr said...

The course that I started in September for Licensed Lay Ministry (aka Reader) will allow me to design and to lead services. That’s the next module on the course after Easter. After year one I will be authorized to lead services of the Word and to preach up to six times a year. After the third year, I will be able to do all of the things a Reader does, including funeral ministry.

The selection process for the foundation year included attendance at a vocations day and a single interview by a Diocesan Vocations Adviser. To go on for the next two years will require a formal selection process, including form filling,references, assessment of performance on the foundation year and formal interviews. Pretty much the same as I did on a Pre-BAP assessment in my previous diocese in 2012.

I don’t anticipate any problems as my Vicar as my supervisor has told me that some of the work I have submitted so far is as good as any she has seen from candidates for ordained ministry, let alone lay ministry. But I’m determined to do my very best to meet the standards, because God has given me this opportunity, despite the barriers placed in my way (age, lack of formal academic achievement, too direct? (Ex-Army, what did they expect?) and others that were so trivial that I don’t even remember them).

But, I feel that the public exercise of ministry, will be just one aspect of the call to serve. I expect to me doing more outside the church than inside, which is already evident in the stuff I’m doing in addition to public facing stuff as part of the training. Particularly with older people, which can be so rewarding for them and for us as we see them blossom after bereavement or even divorce.

Lay Anglicana said...

Ernie, thanks for this. The path that you are now on to Licensed Lay Ministry is a well-trodden one, and it sounds as if it has been well thought through, and in your case is working very well in meeting your needs (and the expectations of your future congregations).

The problem as I see it is that there is a problem in recruiting candidates to this level of ministry, which is why I am suggesting an approach which recognises that lay elders are by definition people who have been Christian disciples for 30, 40, 50, or even 60 years – it is not that they should not be trained, but that the training has already been done. Only topping and tailing is needed to begin with, and as LWLs get started, what they need is a network of support, and a place to exchange ideas.

06 February 2015 12:59
05 February 2015 18:10
Lay Anglicana said...

Wendy, it is not that I find the idea of training offensive. For the level that you are talking about, which is one step below fully ordained ministry, I agree that it is essential. But the level I am talking about, taking Morning or Evening Prayer from the book of Common Worship, without blessing, absolving or preaching does not really require any further training than the candidates already have from pew-sitting over many decades.

We were in the first batch, and it has improved since then, but our training consisted of:
week one: getting to know you, tea and biscuits and compline. Fine, very useful, but not exactly training.
week two: being handed a slip of paper with a bible reference on it. We each looked up our references, and read them out – they turned out to be descriptions of worship at different times of day, the precursor of prime, nones etc etc. Mildly interesting.
week three: lecturer gives us all bits of paper on which to write our sins. Lights candle in saucer. We all burnt our sins in turn and left ashes in saucer. Not very illuminating.
I can’t remember much more, except week seven. We were all given bible references for notorious tongue twisters in the bible and then, without forewarning, had to read these from the lectern.
Week eight: general discussion and compline.

I would happily have dropped all the so-called training elements, and substituted general discussion and prayer.

On the second course I went on, seven years later, there were evenings devoted to Godly Play, and Messy Church. Both interesting but not strictly relevant?

05 February 2015 20:52
minidvr said...

I think that I should qualify my earlier post. I was in a diocese for 5 years, doing all sorts of things, except preaching or leading non-eucharistic worship, which were supposed to have been authorised by the Bishop, but never were. When I wanted this to be ratified by such authorisation it wasn’t forthcoming and no training was available, one course of which, Worship Leader, was being run, but I was refused a place.

I felt that I needed proper training and accreditation by the church, with the appropriate oversight, and a working agreement. This clearly wasn’t going to happen there, so I moved dioceses.

Here, having been through the diocesan vocations process, and accepted for training, I have proper supervision, monthly meetings with my incumbent, along with the academic rigor of learning and submitting assignments for assessment and marking. During training I have already preached twice, under supervision and prior approval of the content of the sermons, and will in future plan and lead non-eucharistic worship under supervision until fully licensed.

That is what is in my view validates lay ministry, and my experience of the #back of the fag packet stuff is completely negative.

Lay Anglicana said...

I agree that Licensed Lay Ministers are well-trained, and well-equipped to do what they do. My concern is that numbers applying to be LLMs are falling, and I think it unlikely that the Church will be able to incease their numbers by either 49% or 68%. I hope therefore that the Church is primarily looking to recruit lay elders/lay worship leaders and I am suggesting that their ‘training’ if you want to call it that (in this case ‘formation’ fits the bill better I think), it is best done by other LWLs/ deanery clergy from outside their parishes on an aftercare basis. Supportive networks are what is needed.

06 February 2015 13:08
06 February 2015 12:41

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