This year we celebrate 150 years of Reader Ministry in the Church of England (now called Licensed Lay Ministry). On Sunday 8th May in the Diocese of Salisbury, look out for Licensed Lay Ministers leading and preaching at services across the diocese.
But what else do Licensed Lay Ministers (LLMs) do? And could God be calling you to this vital ministry?
Judy Anderson, our Vice Warden of Licensed Lay Ministry, reflects on the variety and importance of LLMs.
Salisbury LLMs are, of course, involved in leading and in preaching at services of every kind, formal services in traditional and modern language, all-age worship, praise services, healing services, Taizé services, Good Friday, Harvest and Remembrance services, and a whole host more, including shoe box services and a village show service.
They also conduct funerals, and take communion to residential homes and to the housebound. They are involved with Sunday Club, Messy Church and many different forms of Fresh Expressions. A number are chaplains in hospitals, in schools and to the police.
LLMs have various leadership roles within their churches and in the broader context of the diocese. Some are tutors on the Aldhelm course or other courses run by the diocese. Some lead house groups, prayer groups, confirmation courses or Alpha courses. One has recently led a retreat and another organised a 5-day holiday for older people. Many are members of Deanery or Diocesan Synod and some are involved nationally, with the Central Readers’ Council or General Synod.
In the wider community, Salisbury LLMs are involved with organisations such as the Children’s Society, a Debt Advice Service, Food Banks and a charity for homeless people. One helps support Gypsies and Travellers. A number help with baptism preparation and with visiting the elderly at home or in care homes. Links with local schools and pre-schools are strong, with LLMs serving as foundation governors, participating in Open the Book and going into schools regularly to lead worship, hear children read, or help in other ways. Looking outside the immediate community, one of our LLMs is involved with Mercy Ships, another with International China Concern and a third with the British and European Group of Médecine de la Personne.
Ours is a distinctive ministry. In common with our clergy colleagues we have received a thorough training, both theological and formational, and we are well resourced for our role as ‘lay theologians’ in the 21st century church. In common with Lay Pastoral Assistants, Lay Worship Leaders and indeed most of the members of our churches, the main focus of our lives is or has been in ‘secular’ employment or in the home. As highly trained lay people, we are uniquely placed to bring Christ to those with whom we work, to our neighbours and to those with whom we interact each day.
Encouraging and supporting our clergy colleagues is an important part of our ministry. Equally we should encourage others who have offered and trained for various other lay ministries, and indeed those members of our congregations who may not have signed up to any ‘official’ ministry and yet have so much to offer as parts of the body. It is in encouraging one another that each of us grows more into the image of Christ, and it is mutual trust and encouragement that leads to strong and effective leadership of Christ’s Church both now and in the future.
An emphasis on collaborative ministry, clearly articulated by Bishop Nicholas and others in positions of authority in the diocese, confirms that LLMs are valued colleagues, not just fillers of gaps on rotas, and far more than just people who lead services and perhaps do some teaching. Our training, together with our rootedness in the ‘secular’ world, puts us right at the centre of a collaborative ministry involving clergy and a whole range of different lay ministries. Opportunities to share in the training of Lay Worship Leaders and Lay Pastoral Assistants, and indeed in the leading of courses for all church members, help to confirm that we are all working together for one end, that of furthering the work of the church in bringing Christ to those in our communities and further afield who do not know him and in encouraging and enabling its existing members to grow in faith.
There are about 200 Lay Ministers in Salisbury Diocese, just under half licensed and the others with Permission to Officiate. Each year an encouraging number of people come forward enquiring about Licensed Lay Ministry.
A concern, however, is the age profile, which is gradually becoming older, with very few indeed under 50. The wisdom and life experience which come with age are hugely valued, but we would love to have a full range of ages, to reflect that of the communities in which we serve.
Salisbury LLMs will, of course, be represented at the service in London on Ascension Day, and we hope that many will encourage friends, family and church members to join the celebration in Leicester in July. In the Diocese we plan that 150 years of Reader ministry will be celebrated in every church on the Sunday after Ascension Day, with every LLM preaching at at least one service that day and churches which do not have an LLM and are not able to ‘borrow’ one nevertheless focusing on our ministry. We are planning a diocesan celebration for LLMs at the beginning of October.
I am convinced that in the coming years the Salisbury Licensed Lay Ministers will continue to play a vital part in a collaborative ministry with clergy, those exercising other lay ministries and indeed all God’s people, praying, serving and growing together so that the Church of today and the Church of tomorrow, the body of Christ in the 21st century, truly is a thriving Christian presence in every community.
Taken from a fuller article which first appeared in The Reader, Vol 114 No 4, Winter 2015
For the full article and much more follow this link and select the Winter 2015 edition.