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All members of the believing community, ordained and lay, are inter-related. In a very real sense it is strange to speak of lay ministry versus ordained ministry in the Church, as all ministry has the same root in Christ. The scriptures teach us that there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, varieties of service but the same Lord; varieties of working, but the same God who inspires them all in every one (1 Cor 12.4-6). The Spirit gives gifts or charisms to all the baptised.
Within the fellowship of the baptised, there are those who are entrusted with permanent, lifelong, public and representative roles. These we call the ordained. In the Church, there are three orders of such ministers – bishops, priests (presbyters) and deacons. Ordination is about a ministry that is universally acknowledged and interchangeable, a ministry that is in principle recognizable throughout the universal Church. The three-fold order relates to three dimensions of the Church’s life – the word, the sacraments and pastoral care and oversight.
When we look at the ministry of lay people, there is, of course, the fundamental work of daily Christian discipleship, embraced by all the baptised. Then there are those who have taken on specific tasks in the life of the congregation; these we may call lay ministers. In the Church of England there are a number of lay ministries – Churchwardens, musicians, those who assist with the distribution of Holy Communion, pastoral visitors, Sunday School teachers, youth workers, evangelists, administrators, just to name a few, the list can go on. The vast majority of these are recognized in some way for their work in their local community.
In addition the Church of England has also a category of lay ministry known as “reader” for which people are selected, trained, and eventually authorized by the Bishop. They have specific theological and pastoral formation which enables them to be regarded as official teachers and preachers of the Church’s faith. Their ministry is transferable between parishes and dioceses – once a reader in the Church of England, that ministry can be authorized by a bishop to be exercised in any congregation in his diocese. It is because the Church understands the teaching of the faith to be so important that its official teachers are under the authority (licence) of the Bishop who is the guardian of the Apostolic Faith. It is ultimately the Bishop’s role in the Church to ensure that what is taught and lived is in accordance with the faith of the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
It may be that there are some in your own congregation who are possible candidates for a ministry which we would call Reader – who would be entrusted by the Bishop as official teachers and preachers, working in collaboration with the ordained. There may be others who have been preaching but who have not yet achieved a solid, formal theological training. Their ministry can continue, as long as those who have responsibility for the Church’s teaching are able to supervise them and monitor their their preaching. One possibility would be for such individuals to enter a programme of theological study, which would lead them to having authorized status as a reader, in due course. Their preset ministry of preaching in the meantime could be considered part of their practical formation and training.
In all this I would emphasise that my job as a bishop is to encourage, support and nurture the ministry of the people of God. I would want to recognize gifts that have been given, and set in place a way to let such ministry flourish and find its proper place within the life of the Church. In a situation of development and growing together, there can be flexibility as we seek a way forward in our interim situation, always with a view to honoring both an individual’s charisms and the more general norms of the Church.