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Posts Tagged "‘The Sleeping Congregation’":

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.

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