The 10,000 Readers in the Church of England are being asked whether they want to be ordained deacon. During a debate in the General Synod last February, many Readers expressed frustration at the way they felt they were being under-used (Synod, 10 February 2006). Some Readers also report that new kinds of ministry have left them wondering what part they should play.
As part of a review process about Reader ministry, a questionnaire was sent out in the winter edition of the Central Readers’ Council magazine, The Reader. Readers were asked whether they would “favour significant numbers of Readers being ordained as permanent deacons”. They were also asked whether they wanted to baptise in public services and to be allowed to receive fees for occasional services.
Ten per cent of Readers have already responded to the questionnaire, but, on Wednesday, a church spokesman said that the deadline was being extended in order to gather more responses.
Concern about the future for the office of Reader emerged at the Synod in February 2006, when a private motion, introduced by a Reader, Nigel Holmes, asked the Archbishops’ Council to find out how Readers were being used.
Mr Holmes said on Monday that there had been a “seismic shift” in the balance between lay and ordained voluntary ministry. “The number of Readers in training has fallen by 35 per cent in the past ten years, while the number of ordinands for non-stipendiary and ordained local ministry has increased almost threefold.”
After the debate in the General Synod, the House of Bishops set up a review body to address Reader morale. The group was also asked to: investigate why Readers were seen as being under-used, and where they overlapped with the ordained ministry; and to suggest changes to canon law where necessary. The review group, six out of eight of whose members are already involved in the organisation of lay ministry, is chaired by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd Graham Dow. It aims to report by the summer, for a Synod debate in 2008.
This week, the House of Bishops is understood to have considered a report by the Church’s Faith and Order Advisory Group on the future of ministry, both lay and ordained. The report, which follows on from earlier work on the diaconate, For Such a Time as This (CHP, 2001), is due to be discussed by the General Synod in July.
Prebendary Paul Avis, the general secretary of the Council for Christian Unity, who is a member of the Faith and Order Advisory Group, which prepared the report before the Bishops, said that Readership “pushes at the boundary of ordained ministry, though it does not cross it”.
In The Reader, he wrote Readers would need to be more outward- looking and orientated to mission. Readership stood for “the validity and integrity of lay ministry”.