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Shake-up in lay ministry aims to elevate the laity’s calling

14 October 2016

Hattie Williams talks to the people behind a forthcoming C of E report on leadership


“Renewed emphasis”: Jocelyn Bryan is licensed by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant, in the Chapter House of Durham Cathedral, at the end of last month

“Renewed emphasis”: Jocelyn Bryan is licensed by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant, in the Chapter House of Durham Cathedral, at the end o...

THE laity in the Church of England must be treated as equal with the clergy if the Church is to grow, a new report on lay leadership will conclude.

The report, compiled by the Lay Leadership Task Group, was approved by the Archbishops’ Council last month. It is to be presented to the Ministry Council on 10 November, when it will be made public, and will go to the House of Bishops for consideration with a view to its presentation to the General Synod in February.

A C of E spokesman said this week that the crux of the report “identifies the need for two shifts in culture and practice” which were deemed by the Archbishops’ Coun­cil to be “critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisa­tion of the nation”.

These two new principles agreed by the task group are: “Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

”Until laity and clergy are con­vinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually account­­able in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will struggle to form Christian com­muni­ties to evangelise the nation.”

But the report was not an all-out criticism of current relationships between the clergy and laity, which were largely healthy, one member of the Task Group, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, said on Tuesday: rather, it was an opportunity to foster a “culture of change” in the way that the laity were perceived.

”Our vision of what lay ministry — and particularly lay leadership — has been about has been lacking,” he said. “Quite often, we see the role of the laity as filling the gaps left by retreating clergy; and strategic future decisions have been made too often by clergy and bishops who are not hearing the lay voice sufficiently.”

”The laity”, although it means the people of God, is usually used in a narrower sense to refer to all Christians who have not been ordained. These include evangelists, non-licensed lay ministers, and licensed lay ministers, or Readers, who have volunteered their services to the Church, but who have subsequently been selected, trained, and licensed by the bishop of a diocese to preach, teach, and lead worship, usually within a parish. The number of active licensed lay ministers in the C of E totalled about 9000 last year; a further 740 are in training.

A renewed emphasis in Renewal and Reform is on the laity as “disciples”, described on the C of E web page on Renewing Discipleship and Ministry as those who feel “called to a life of learning and formation in the likeness of Christ”, and who teach the faith in all aspects of their life to those willing to learn.

The report, then, was as much about growing discipleship — shar­ing the faith — as lay ministry, Bishop North said. “It is saying that the people who are conscious, com­mitted disciples need to be living the Christian life, not just through the Church, but in the workplace, the home, everywhere. So there is a much bigger, bolder, more ambi­tious vision for the role of laity which sees lay people as absolutely the front line in every sphere of life and aspect of the world.”

Christians, lay and ordained, were disciples united by baptism, he said, and the theological training of ordained ministers should not be a barrier to this unity. “The purpose of the priest is to feed and equip and send God’s people. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that.”

The lay leadership report did not, therefore, dwell on the growth of the lay ministry positions which were acknowledged by the Church, although developing a culture in which the laity and clergy were con­sidered equal might present new opportunities and positions of lead­ership for lay people. “It is about everyone being a Christian leader in their own context, influencing others, and therefore growing in confidence,” he explained. “It is about creating churches which are consciously seeking to equip and send people out as Christians.”

The lay chairwoman of the House of Laity in Newcastle diocese, Carol Wolstenholme, said that work was already under way in the diocese “to develop laity and clergy in their shared ministry and Christian lead­ership, with a particular focus on encouraging lay people” to “find their voice” and take up leadership positions both in the diocese and elsewhere.

Such initiatives, she said, were “important aspects of a culture change within the Church that will enable it to grow and bring hope to the nation. Nobody is pretending it is easy, but there is a great willing­ness and intention to make it hap­pen.” She was confident, she said, that the work of the Lay Leadership Task Group was “supported and making very good progress” on this front.

It is this shift in culture that the report will focus on — that all Chris­tians, lay and ordained, might be leaders. But the more formal, traditional forms of lay ministry were still important in providing “a major ministerial resource” for parishes, churches, and chaplain­cies, the director of the Arch­bishops’ Council’s Ministry Division, the Ven. Julian Hubbard, said this week.

There was already a wide range of both “formal and informal lay min­istries” developing in the field of mission, including pioneer minis­ters in Fresh Expressions: a C of E initiative to plant new congregations or churches in a different style to that of the church that founded them.

Archdeacon Hubbard agreed, however, that ministry started with “the encouragement of discipleship and a common vocation through baptism”. “It is a time of experiment and change,” he said, and the laity would be “vitally important” to the growth of vocations in the Church as a whole.

Lay people offered leadership, support, and “an example of faith and service which can inspire others” both within and beyond the Church, he said. The laity also brought a different perspective to ministry, since they maintained other commitments outside church. “Readers and other laity often speak of themselves as providing a bridge between Church and world, helping to link, and at times interpret, between these two spheres from their commitments in both.”

Bishop North agreed. “When did you last hear a sermon about being a Christian in the workplace? The laity can offer a worldly outlook, answering the questions in people’s hearts.”

The laity, in all its forms, must not be forgotten, he said. But there was a risk that this report, like previous reports on lay ministry, might be buried. Its success, he said, would come down to language. “It avoids the problem of power, and focuses on the need for right and healthy relationships between lay and ordained.

”That change in language is supportive, because it doesn’t allocate blame — that the clergy are some black-shirted mafia disempowering the lay people — rather, [it] indicates that something has gone wrong with the relationship, and that we have not yet understood.”

Once this relationship had been nurtured and understood, and the Church could form Christians who were “more self-conscious and confident as disciples”, then vocational growth would naturally follow, Bishop North concluded.

“Once you create a culture of vocational discernment within a church, and start to build that cul­ture, the numbers of acknowledged lay ministers start to grow.”


TWO connected bodies have been working on developing and expand­ing lay ministries as part of Renewal and Reform. Lay ministry is listed on the C of E website under Re­­newing Discipleship and Ministry, along­­­side vocations, discipleship, and Resourcing Ministerial Educa­tion (RME).

RME set out to tackle the net decline in the number of stipendiary ministers in the Church by achiev­ing a “significant increase in the number and quality of ministerial leaders, lay and ordained”, and was first set out in a paper brought to the General Synod in February 2015 by the RME task group. Part of this paper addressed the growth of lay ministry, including the need to:

• increase lay ministry vocations, education, and improve practice;
• review forms of lay ministry within RME;
• develop the relationship between lay and ordained ministries;
• determine hindrances to work of lay ministers and propose changes;
• increase communication between dioceses and shared learning; and
• review resources for lay minis­terial education and propose changes.

A member of the Ministry Coun­cil from the diocese of Salisbury, Christine Corteen, put forward an amendment to the report to rectify the absence of lay ministry in the final motion, which requested that the Archbishops’ Council report to the Synod on its progress by 2018.

Her amendment was clearly carried, but a “throwaway sentence” at the end of the consultation, she said, suggested that “the aspiration of the dioceses was to increase vol­unteer lay-ministry candidates by 48 per cent, and paid ones by 69 per cent.” She was told that more work was required to achieve this rise.

The report, as amended, was wel­comed by the Synod, and, in No­­vem­ber 2015, a Lay Ministry Work­­ing Group was established by the Ministry Council to monitor its pro­­gress and that of another report, Resourcing the Future, also debated in February. The latter mentions the “stabilisation” and eventual increase of lay leaders.

A Facebook post by a member of the work­ing group, Dr Tim Ling, head of minis­try develop­ment in the C of E, and Dr Jacqui Philips, the director of the central secretariat, states that the working group had been set up to provide a “steer”.

A separate group, the Lay Leader­ship Task Group, had been set up by the Archbishops’ Council with the “ambitious and extensive task of looking at how the role of laity in leadership within and outside the Church, who are not formally li­­censed, can best be understood and realised in the 21st century”. It is chaired by Matthew Frost (Arch­bishops’ Council).

In the post “But what about the laity?”, written in July in response to William Nye’s blog on the challenge of increasing vocations, Dr Ling and Dr Philips wrote: “The two groups were very intentionally set up to complement one another. In the past when national conversations about the laity have taken place, questions of licensing and author­isa­tion have had the tendency to drown out more expansive think­ing such as attending to leadership amongst the dispersed Church.”

The C of E website states that the working group, chaired by the Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson (who is to retire next month), has been in consulta­tion with the dioceses to address such questions. It has been work­­ing closely with the task group in producing the lay leader­ship report.

Mrs Corteen said, however: “It is still unclear at this stage as to how robustly a mech­anism will be put in place to encour­age and assist dioceses to achieve a significant increase in lay ministries in order to resource the Church for the future.

”My hope is that the work of the Lay Ministries Working Group will go beyond the bureaucracy of the Ministry Division. The Arch­bishops’ Council should take own­er­ship and oversee the progress of increasing the breadth and depth of lay ministries, and give General Synod the opportunity to challenge where significant step changes are not coming through.”

Angela Scott, a Rochester lay repres­entative on the Synod, said that she was excited that lay min­istry had taken a more prominent position on the agenda in recent years. But her diocese was alone, she said, in having “completely rede­fined” its lay training programme, taking into account the current and predicted future of ministry.

Ms Scott, who spoke at the Synod in February, was disappointed by the “ambiguous” reply to her plea for all forms of lay ministry, includ­ing pastoral and evangelistic posi­tions, to be set within the Ministry Division of the C of E. Lay positions other than Readers and Church Army offi­cers were overseen by the Education Division. The next steps, she said, would be to dissolve the Central Readers’ Council and create a new umbrella organisation for all diocesan lay ministries, using in­­herited income to support regional lay training.

Archdeacon Hubbard said such con­cerns were “taken seri­­ously”. “We are emerging from a long his­tory in which the role of the parish priest has evolved from a pattern of sole responsibility for ministry into the current, far more complex, web of relationships and responsibilities. This calls for change not only in the way churches are organised, but also in the kinds of skills and attitudes needed in those who lead, whether lay or ordained.” This could be partly achieved, he said, by re­­viewing the selection criteria for both the clergy and lay ministers.


Pilgrim passes sales landmark PILGRIM, the Church of England discipleship course, has sold more than 130,000 copies since its launch in 2013, making it the most prolific series by Church House Publishing since Common Worship, it was announced this week.

The free video material to promote the programme had been viewed more than 25,000 times, and downloaded 6000 times, in the past year, a spokesman from Church House said. Pilgrim study groups had popped up in homes, churches, prisons and pubs from Denmark, Canada, and Australia, to the United Arab Emirates, and the United States with the Church Publishing Inc. version.

There are two stages to the course: “Follow” — for those with little or no understanding of the Christian faith; and “Grow” — for Christians who want to develop their faith further. Both stages contain four, short six-session courses, which are available to buy as books or audiobooks.

“Pilgrim takes a different approach to other Christian programmes,” the website states. “It approaches the great issues of faith, not through persuasion, but participation in a pattern of contemplation and discussion with a group of fellow travellers.”

This style had appealed to non-Christians, “helping them feel comfortable and relaxed with the subject”, a Church House spokesman said.

To celebrate the third anniversary of Pilgrim, Church House Publishing is conducting a survey of Pilgrim users. See www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Pilgrimsurvey2016. Initial results suggest that 95 per cent of users would run another course, and the same proportion would recommend Pilgrim to another church.

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