Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

‘The Best Is The Enemy Of The Good’

In the first part of this ‘essay’, For the Want of a Nail, we looked at the worst possible scenario for the Church of England if nothing were to be done. It is time to look instead at our glass as if it were half full, rather than half empty.

Training the laity to lead worship
As many dioceses, but by no means all, have seen, the answer lies readily at hand but requires a break with tradition and a leap of diocesan imagination. In several places the Church is making efforts to train a new tier of lay people to a level at which they can be asked to lead some services of the word, without the full 3-year training required to become a licensed lay minister (formerly called ‘lay reader’).

The spur is necessity (there is a shortage of licensed lay ministers as well as clergy). However, support for this initiative varies from diocese to diocese, within each diocese and also presumably with the spinning of the weather vane on the cathedral roof. Under the headline ‘With fewer clergy, can lay people get trained to run the church?’,  the Exeter diocesan website included until very recently the splendid statement:

“Lay people are the body of Christ on earth, and what they do is Christ’s ministry to the world. The role of professional clergy now is to support and enable lay people to be the church more deeply, more fully.”

This page has now been removed. Winchester diocese has had ‘lay worship leaders’ in Andover deanery since April 2005, but still declines to mention their existence on the lay ministry website page on the grounds that they were only ‘commissioned’ by the bishop, not ‘licensed’.

The central role of the Lord’s Supper
The central difficulty is that, as Edward Green so compellingly describes on his blog,  ‘Future Shape of Church,’ the  Eucharist is of primordial importance:

‘The Prayerbook had the intention of Holy Communion being the main Sunday service and Matins being a daily office. If a Priest was unavailable on Sunday morning the form used was Ante-Communion – the service of the word from Holy Communion. If we are serious about drawing new people into sacramental faith then this needs to be readopted. Lay Family services should follow the shape of Common Worship Holy Communion up to the Peace.’

Well, is the best the enemy of the good?
I am grateful to Edward for saying that he supports the idea of the ministry of the laity but I am uneasy about his proposal above for lay worship leaders to take services of ‘ante-communion’ on the Sundays when a priest is unavailable.

I apologise for the vulgarity, but this sounds to me like coitus interruptus. I can see the necessity for it when a priest is expected, but does not turn up. But, like all the liturgy, the service of Holy Communion has a beginning, middle and end. To ask the congregation, perhaps on three weeks out of four, to make their way towards the oasis, only to be forbidden to drink is, in my estimation, not likely to draw ‘new people into sacramental faith’.

In this case, it was Voltaire who said it first and best, in La Bégueule: ‘le mieux est l’ennemi du bien’. We know and will always recognise what the best looks like: weekly services of communion taken in every church in the land by a priest.

But if, as we have seen, ‘the best’ can no longer be a weekly reality, we have to ensure that ‘the good’ is as good as we can make it.

I suggest that worship by, with and from the laity can have its own strengths: it makes the congregation feel part of the worship as spiritual equals with their fellow worshippers in a way that is not possible when it is priest-led. If  lay worship leaders involve as many of the congregation as possible in a less formal, non-sacramental service, this in itself can surely lead to the spiritual growth of both led and leader?

If churchgoers are encouraged to see a role for themselves as leaders of worship, the downward spiral of ‘For the want of a nail’ can be re-written as a virtuous circle:

If there are not enough priests to take weekly communion services in each parish church, lay worship leaders can take services of the word in the intervening weeks.
These may include Matins and Evensong, but also modern versions of these, as priests and laity offer differing but complementary services.
Congregations, and hence church income, will be maintained and should be re-vitalised by the variety of worship on offer.
Churches will consolidate their historic role at the centre of each community as congregations play a greater part in services.
And a central part of the fabric of our national life will be strengthened to continue.

1. The illustration is ‘The Institution of the Eucharist’ by Fra Angelico c. 1450 under creative commons licence via wiki gallery.
2. The next blog in this series will examine how to turn a motley congregation into leaders of worship.

15 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

There are two aspects to this. First my diocese trains Lay Worship Leaders, as well as Evangelists, Your Ministers and Healing Wholeness Ministers. They are authorised, not licensed for their role. The role is diocese specific and the training is not transferable to another diocese if you have to relocate. You start all over again, that is if the diocese operates this system. We also train Licensed Readers, whose ministry is transferable.

The substitute for Holy Communion, is Communion by Extension. This service in our Parish, in the absence of a Priest is run by the curate or reader. We don't do it often, only occasionally for mid-week communion.

I am involved in the ministry of taking communion by extension to the Sick and Care homes. The liturgy is reduced, but includes those essentials to allow those we minister too, to share the communion celebrated at our Parish Church the previous Sunday (or mid-week communion) which they are not able to attend due to their circumstances. This is another 'authorised' ministry by the Bishop.

There are lots of options for these services to be used, rarely, not commonly by the appropriately licensed or authorised ministers.

28 May 2011 16:49
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you UKViewer.
In Winchester diocese, the authorisation is even more specific -just within the parish of the LWL, not even within the benefice – so therefore not transferable.
I have the same problem with Communion by Extension, which I received on several occasions when I broke my leg. To me it 'works' well as ministry to the sick, but for congregational purposes on a regular basis in my view it is better to have a service of the word which is what it is, rather than a substitute for the Eucharist.
Imagining a situation in which a priest will only take a service in a parish church once a month, what would you prefer to do for the remaining Sundays?

28 May 2011 17:29
UKViewer said...

This is a situation which we have considered, and so far have not had to deal with. We always manage to find locums who can deputise. We are very near Canterbury, which has a pool of Clergy, active and retired, including the University Chaplaincies who sometimes want to experience Parish Ministry for a weekend or so.

I know that it is not so easy further afield, even where I live it presents difficulties if a priest is away for any reason. The reality then hits home.

A service of the word is acceptable for me, but I would always find another venue for Holy Communion. I can go to the Cathedral tomorrow as we have a 'Pet Service' schedules, which will not include Holy Communion.

28 May 2011 17:51
Lay Anglicana said...

Actually, you are right about finding locums. At present if our priest is on holiday, or for the odd extra Sunday, we use 'the register' too. But presumably if the situation gets much more acute, there will not be enough priests on the register to cover all the churches that need a Sunday service.
The idea is that we should drive to the nearest church in the deanery that is offering a communion, but we have great difficulty in our benefice in getting congregations even to go to different services in the same benefice. I was told by one that worshipping in a village only 5 miles away was like 'worshipping amid the alien corn'! What can you do!

28 May 2011 17:55
Lesley said...

Hi Laura,

Thank-you so much for including me on your blog roll. I have moved my blog to and wondered whether you would be willing to change the link?



28 May 2011 22:15
Lay Anglicana said...

Hello Lesley
Finally worked out how to do this! No problem. Your blog is always one of the first I turn to.

28 May 2011 23:18
Erika Baker said...

I would like to agree with you and to say that better lay worship will be the cure for our emptying churches.
But in my own benefice lay led worship is very strong, strongly supported by the bishop and the parishes.
But it makes absolutely no difference to people outside the church.
It simply means that those inside the church are even more active than they were before, which is nice as far as it goes.

The people who never come to church anymore wouldn't have a clue what goes on inside.
I am always astonished how little people actually know about church and how little they care.

What most of my non-Christian friends believe church to be about is that you have to be a goody goody two shoes to be accepted, that it's all about behaving properly and saying your prayers nicely, that it's too focused on people's sex lives without any understanding of modern relationships, that it's about telling people how to live and not about seeing them as equal partners in a journey to the possibility of God.

It's a bit like our grandparents were – loving us while being constantly mildly confused about the reality of our lives and, deep down, more than a little disapproving.

Headline news like last week's revelations influence people's perceptions more than anything the local church does on a Sunday morning.

31 May 2011 07:30
Lay Anglicana said...

Good morning Erika!
I have to agree that lay-led worship may not be the cure for emptying churches – I am only claiming that involving the laity may stop the churches declining any further and, in particular, may stop churches closing their doors permanently.

I am afraid the second half of your comment is undeniably, and sadly, true. But it also contains the germ of an idea of using lay worship leaders to expand the congregations:

"it's about telling people how to live and not about seeing them as equal partners in a journey to the possibility of God."

This exactly sums up what a lay-led service can (and hopefully does!) offer. My recipe?

-When I took Matins, I sat in the nave with the congregation, to send a clear signal that I was – as in intercessions – aiming to voice the thoughts and prayers of the congregation on that particular Sunday, not setting myself up as their leader.

-I asked people for their honest reactions to the service (and I got both good and bad!) and tried to adapt accordingly.

-Apart from lesson readers, I asked two others to join me in reading the sermon substitute in a sort of conversation; someone else to do the intercessions; someone else to receive the collection at the altar; and a 'cantor' to sing the versicles. If I could find a way to involve more people in the service, I did.

-The service lasted 45 minutes, rather than the usual hour.

-I made an attractive pew sheet.

– The average congregation for Matins went from 10 to 30-40 (village population 750).

-Apart from the desire to worship God, people came partly to support those taking a 'starring' part in the service. (But the roles were rotated, so that different people took it in turn to 'star' – I was going to say 'take an active part in the service' – but hopefully the whole congregations was doing that!)

-Several 'heathens' used to come to the service because they liked the atmosphere we managed to create of a group of people trying to 'figure it all out' together.

31 May 2011 08:08
Erika Baker said...

I'm not denying that existing congregations have to be involved more in the Service and that this can be hugely life giving for them.

But I would also point out that the most lively, welcoming and empowering congregations are usually evangelical parishes and that many eventually leave them when they realise the reality of conditional acceptance and judgmentalism that is at the core of many of them.

Ultimately, the style of worship is window dressing if our individual local churches don't address the underlying problems.

31 May 2011 08:42
Lay Anglicana said...

I agree with all that you say.
What would you list as the underlying problems and their causes?
(Listing the solutions is, as you imply, rather more difficult!)

31 May 2011 09:40
Erika Baker said...

I actually think that agreeing on the underlying problems and their causes is the hardest thing.
We each have our own pet answers that appear obvious to us.

I would like churches to be more genuinely open to the social realities around them and I would like them to feed deeper spiritual needs and be prepared to grapple with complex questions, allowing people to come to different conclusions (it's the Fowler concept that most churches serve stage 2-3 congregations while most people outside are asking at least stage 4 questions).

But much more conservative people bemoan a loss of leadership, or of no longer valuing Truth over social flightiness, of priests no longer giving people firm answers and instructions.

Some feel we're too happy clappy and shallow, others that our music and rituals are too ancient.

Other still find that traditional Service times just don't lend themselves to modern lifestyles.

What I would really like to see is a concerted effort to find out why people are leaving the church.
I would like local churches to draw up a list of who was there 5-10 ago and isn't now, and actively follow up why people left.

I would like churches to follow up on Wedding couples who spent 6 months in a parish in order to get married in a pretty church and ask them what kind of experience they had. What did genuinely appeal, what didn't. What might put them in touch with God in their lives (Not just come back to this church because we need to fill the flower rota!).

There will be a number of answers, but maybe a pattern will eventually emerge.

I believe there is an organisation somewhere doing just that, I got the link during a conversation on Bishop Alan's blog a while ago but lost it.
But it should be something individual churches do as a matter of course.

31 May 2011 10:32
Lay Anglicana said...

I think this is an extremely useful catalogue – for me particularly what you imply about the infantilisation of congregations. (I was told I could explain the Trinity by taking in a pot plant and saying the Trinity was like the roots, shoots and flowers of the plant – this to a congregation which included fellows of All Souls!)

I am interested to hear that there is an organisation somewhere looking for a pattern to emerge from what we are experiencing on the ground, but shouldn't it be better known? (Perhaps it is in the Lambeth Palace Situation Room of my fantasies?!)

'But it should be something individual churches do as a matter of course.' Yes, absolutely. But I do think that the authorities should give a lead on this, be discussing it in public at least. How much more important and urgent this question is in reality than the wretched Covenant!

31 May 2011 10:52
Erika Baker said...

your example about explaining the Trinity made me giggle!
Until I remembered that one of my previous parish priests didn't mind at all that there were never any children in the Family Service (because the parents couldn't concentrate on the Service if there was no-one to take the little ones out), but never stopped preaching very childlike sermons, "because adults really like complex things to be explained simply".

31 May 2011 11:18
Edward Green said...

A response of sorts. It's all about the Canticles!

31 May 2011 12:32
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Edward. I have posted a reply on your blog rather than here.

31 May 2011 17:03

Leave a Reply

We rely on donations to keep this website running.