IN HIS introduction to All Are Called in 1985, Bishop
Patrick Rodger wrote: "There are a great many laypeople, and clergy
too, apart from those involved in Synods and PCCs, who want to find
a voice in the Christian enterprise today. The best thing that our
working party can do . . . is to leave some useful tools for the
future thought and action of groups or individuals up and down the
Nearly 30 years on, it remains the ambition of many lay people
to find that voice, and to play their part in the Church, of which
they are numerically by far the dominant part. Much lip service has
been paid to the notions of shared ministry, lay participation, the
priesthood of all believers, every-member ministry. Much
frustration, confusion, and unfulfilled potential remains.
All Are Called noted the progress that had been made in
the previous 30 years, but frankly acknowledged the obstacles that
continued to "hamper the development" of lay involvement.
It mentioned four: (1) the Church's "pitiful" and "grossly
inadequate" direct investment in lay education and development; (2)
the neglect of the responsibilities of the laity outside parish
life in the use of those funds that were made available; (3) a
sense of oppression among laity - and clergy - from "persistent
clericalism"; and (4) the ambiguity of the Church's understanding
of where the local parish is valuable, and where it is not.
The report said that "Some clergy and parish lay workers forget
that their fellow believers who minister mostly in the structures
of the world may be just as committed to Jesus Christ, and just as
faithful as they are themselves."
Many of the same points were made during the General Synod House
of Laity's debate on lay discipleship in York last year.
Two things stood out. First, a great deal of ministry, witness,
and service is carried out by lay people in and outside the Church,
much of it unacknowledged. Second, there is a great deal of
untapped potential which, if mobilised, could trans-form the
Church's apparent shortage of financial and human resources.
Yet there is no doubting that there has been a great flowering
of ministry, and service, by lay people in the past 30 years. Many
more lay people are contributing, both within the life of the
Church and in the wider community.
THERE has been a much-needed growth of youth work: individual
and groups of churches employ full-time and part-time workers -
some ordained, but mostly lay people. There is a parallel, but not
yet such substantial growth, in children's work (especially with
toddlers), such as Messy Church.
Lay people are making a powerful contribution in the creativity,
in-sights, and the models of discipleship that they provide.
THIS has seen considerable and varied growth. It was an
unintended consequence of liturgical revision that intercessions in
Sunday worship are led by lay people.
Alongside this is the wider availability of healing ministries
and associated forms of prayer ministry. Here, a growing number of
lay people - often in teams, and involving several local churches -
are exercising their spirituals gifts for the church and the
This is increasingly linked with a ministry of hospitality and
visiting, complementing established and more specialised
ministries. The ministry of street pastors, which has grown
significantly in the past ten years, also often contains an
emphasis on offering prayer.
THESE are a frequent feature of many parishes, providing
fellowship, prayer, and opportunities for teaching and learning. In
most cases, these groups are lay-led, and provide an opportunity
for many lay people to develop their discipleship.
The use of small groups in evangelism often combines the
hospitality and home-group culture. This, too, requires the
essential leadership and participation of lay people.
The Alpha programme, for instance, has shown that this style of
ministry can be effective in a wide variety of social
ANOTABLE feature of thepast 15 years has been the recovery of
confidence inthe Church's ministry in schools, which began with the
Dearing report. While school chaplains make a vital contribution,
the main task of providing a Christian presence in primary and
secondary schools falls to lay people - particularly teaching
staff, butalso governors and, most importantly, the pupils
Here is the front line of the Church's engagement with the whole
community. The only Christians whom most people under the age of 20
know are those they met at school. As a Church we have, at last,
begun to wake up to the necessity of giving them the support they
UNFORTUNATELY, running parallel to that flowering of lay
ministry and discipleship has been a decline in both attendance at
church and the numbers of clergy.
Increasing costs mean that more and more will be required of the
laity if the Church's ministry is to continue. The challenge is
well-expressed in the three themes adopted by the national Church:
contributing to the common good; going for growth; and reimagining
ministry. All require a fundamental reassessment of our approach to
the use of the gifts and insights of lay people.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace. Here, too,
there is at last a growing understanding of the significance of the
part played by Christians, both in their work and in the way they
One missed opportunity of the past 30 years has been to refresh
and develop Reader ministry, and, in particular, to enhance its
distinctively lay character. Consequently, the Reader profile is
ageing, and recruitment is down.
A vigorous General Synod debate in 2006 led to the setting up of
a review. The outcome, Reader Upbeat, was a disappointing,
rambling report. The momentum was lost.
So, where are the laity? Many are hard at work sharing in, and
resourcing, the Church's mission and ministry in the community and
workplace, as well as in places of worship and committee rooms.
Some are frustrated, and feel unappreciated or marginalised.
Some - perhaps many - could be inspired and equipped to do
Yes, all are called. The challenge is to release their energy
and desire to serve; so that they may, in turn, inspire and equip
Dr Philip Giddings is a lecturer in politics at the
University of Reading, and chairs the House of Laity in the General