I’ve been aware recently of various conversations about Reader Ministry on a thread of conversation at Lay Anglicana. A while back Doug Chaplin also blogged on why we bother with Reader’s in the C of E, and to some extent it’s relationship with the permanent diaconate.
Having just completed Reader Ministry Duty Card for 2011, and realising I’ve now achieved two full calendar years in this ministry. The full break-down is here Reader Ministry Stats 2010-11 (RH) and includes some specific reflections on what the statistics of my own ministry tell me, and what they don’t tell you. They are rather practical and parochial, and I’m not sure how much will be relevant in parishes other than St Peter’s Yateley.
However, in the greater scheme of things here’s some other thoughts:
FIRSTLY: I will say for the record what I’ve probably said elsewhere: many people, both connected and unconnected with Anglican churches, don’t understand what the term “Reader” means. Before my colleagues and I were licensed there hadn’t been any here for years, and explaining what we were doing often took some while! More recently, and especially in funeral ministry, people just see the ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ and don’t have the time or the mental energy in this situation to want to understand what a ‘Reader’ is. I swiftly adopted the title ‘lay minister’ and always explained that I wasn’t ‘THE VICAR’ (especially since we didn’t have one for nearly a year). I still got listed on one family’s phone book as ‘Vicar of Dibley’ though, and that was before they saw me in a cassock and surplice!
SECONDLY: Reader ministry varies hugely from person to person, and parish to parish, and probably from diocese to diocese. If people work full-time in secular employment (as two of my colleagues here do) then they’re not going to be able to undertake the quantity of commitments that I’ve had recently. As with all ministries each person will also have their own strengths and preferences. If you look at Emma’s Blog you’ll someone with a totally different style of ministry to mine (more orientated to family support and children’s work) and yet we are both ‘Readers’ or ‘Lay Ministers’ depending on your preferred terminology. For me this is part of the richness of ministry that Emma outlines here – and enables our calling to grow, develop and change over time, depending on our own and our parish’s needs, as well as God’s will of course 😉
THIRDLY: I’d suggest that those involved in licensed ministries that involve teaching, preaching and general pastoral work, and who are not called to the priesthood, need to be drawn together under that title ‘Licensed Lay Minister’. This would be a way of helping people understand what it is we are and do. For this reason it should also be done in every diocese in the Church of England. But we all know how long and drawn out a process such a change could entail. The last (revised) report on Reader Ministry was Reader Upbeat issued in 2009, and yet after an initial flurry of interest I’ve not heard much actually happening about it’s recommendations, at least from my Diocese (but then at present we are just finishing a vacancy in see, so that may change!)
FINALLY: The areas of ministry where I feel I am currently most effective are in preaching, taking funerals and creating (occasionally) bespoke acts of worship. By ‘effective’ I mean the places where I best enable people to experience God speaking into their lives, or where I enable God to be represented in some way. At some point in the future I know I need to stretch myself in these areas, particularly:
- to re-visit some of the variety of preaching techniques we tried in Reader Training but which I’ve not used much;
- to do more pastoral training that would enable me to cope with some of the aspects of funeral ministry I’ve not yet experienced (ministering to the terminally ill prior to death, to a family on the suicide of a loved one, or through the death of a child);
- to have the space and opportunity to create more ‘bespoke’ services and also return to learning to prepare or write short studies for homegroup environments.
These are all for the future though. I am aware that various factors in 2012 will change my pattern of ministry; ‘how’ this will happen will probably be revealed later in the year. But in the meantime it’s just a case of meeting the next need and placing God firmly in the middle of it… So, I’m off to write another funeral talk!