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Posts Tagged "The Revd Edward Green":

‘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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