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Category - "Lay Worship Leaders":

How Do You Find Lay Worship Leaders From The Congregation?

Pity the poor clergy, going up into the pulpit to preach on a Sunday morning, and looking down at the motley crew that is their congregation. Presumably on a bad day we look to them something like the vision of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) above or Hogarth (1697-1764) below? Both of these artists fixed on sleeping congregations, but the problem of sleep may be as much metaphorical as actual.

If we accept the argument of the previous two posts in this series, For the Want of a Nail (1) and The Best is the Enemy of the Good (2), it is a matter of urgency to identify potential lay worship leaders from this rather unprepossessing bunch. In case there is any doubt that this is a pressing problem,  ‘Church Ferret’  pointed out on 10 May that 40% of clergy (in England) are retiring in next 10 years. Mind you, our Lord must have faced a  problem in trying to find his 12 apostles. I am grateful to the Revd Pam Smith for her link to the imagined recruitment consultants who produced this report on his candidates:

…most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the “team” concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings…

Of course in the biblical accounts, we are not told of anyone refusing to become an apostle. Yet priest after priest has attested to the difficulty of persuading any of the congregation to take on the worship-leading role. What is clearly not comparable is the pent-up demand to become priests by women who, thank God, put themselves forward for ordination once they were allowed to do so. I think the Church must take some responsibility for the lack of impetus by the laity to take on this role: there is scant indication that the Church would welcome them. If the Church agrees that lay worship leaders may help to save the day, there needs to be a central policy. You will search in vain (at least I have) for any mention on the new Church of England website of lay worship leaders (or other local variant). It would help for a start to decide what they should be called!

So, if  congregations were made aware that people were wanted to lead worship (if deemed suitable – a sort of mini-BAP might be necessary, though until now selection has taken the form of recommendation by the clergy and PCC), they might begin to come forward. One of the problems may be that our formation as ‘ho laos’ -from Sunday School upwards- emphasises the story of Christianity, worship and leading a good life. In my life, anyway, there has been absolutely no emphasis in one-to-one situations, such as confirmation classes, on our role as individuals in the Body of Christ. I suspect this is less of a problem in the Episcopal Church, because of its recognition of the ministry of the laity and its practice of congregational repetition of their baptismal vows three or four times a year.

In my case, my recruitment was simple and, in retrospect, an example of the Holy Spirit at His sneakiest! Our benefice had an ‘awayday’ to consider future plans. Afterwards, we were asked to fill out a form saying what we were prepared to do for the church. Top of the list was brass-polishing (my least favourite job). Making the coffee (already plenty of competent people). Holy Dusters (hate housework). Churchyard working party (not my thing). Flowers (existing rota slots jealously guarded).Taking monthly services of Matins (the existing lay worship leader was moving to London, and without a replacement, this service would lapse). Eureka!

I signed up because there was a gap. I signed up because leading worship was the most attractive of the options on offer and I felt I should do something as part of the church community. I signed up pretty casually. I then started attending the ‘evening classes’. The sessions were typically Anglican – 8 different people spoke to us on aspects of worship, all saying something different on, for example, the thorny issue of lay people ‘preaching’ (we were not allowed to, but we still had to fill the sermon slot). But something happened in the course of these evenings, nevertheless. I found myself ‘surprised’ by God and being changed, inexorably. By the time the Bishop commissioned us at a service that was charged with the glory of God, I discovered I had a mission.

There is a saying: When baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse! Even if the selection process is as apparently haphazard as it was in my case, surely God can and will work with the material He is presented with, and we must allow Him space to do so. The congregation may appear to be sleeping, but this may be deceptive: perhaps they are just waiting for the call?

1. The top illustration is ‘A Sleepy Congregation’, by Thomas Rowlandson
2. The bottom illustration is ‘The Sleeping Congregation’ by William Hogarth.
Both are provided by wiki gallery under a creative commons licence.
3. In the next post, we will look at how the formation of ‘ho laos’ might be modified so people are more aware from childhood of the part they need to play in the Church as part of the Body of Christ.

‘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.

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