Lay people ‘need confidence’ to thrive

by
24 February 2017

INTRODUCING a debate on a motion to follow up Setting God’s People Free, the report from an Archbishops’ Council’s Lay Leadership Task Group, Mark Russell (Sheffield), said that the heart of the report was “a critical question”: “How will we do even more to help the 98 per cent of the Church of England who are not ordained?”

The report was not about licensed lay ministries, he said, because a working group looking at “lay ecclesial ministry” would report at a later date. Instead, this was about how to help lay people who “lack confidence in applying faith into their everyday lives”.

He acknowledged that the C of E had been talking about the issue “for about 150 years”, and that numerous reports had underscored the need for the Church “urgently to find ways for the laity to become more confident disciples in the whole of life”.

The lack of action, he said, was not the fault of the reports. The reports had not failed the Church; but the Church had failed the reports. But this new report was different because, unlike the earlier work in this area, it “builds a strategy to ensure that the bold aims are actually delivered on the ground”.

If the Synod accepted the report, work would begin “immediately” to finalise an implementation plan and appoint national champions, develop online resources for “whole-life discipleship”, and build a “learning community of pilot dioceses”.

If he was still on Synod in ten years, he would expect to hear “stories of parishes and dioceses, of nurses and postmen, of paramedics and sales assistants, chefs and farmers, electricians, plumbers, florists and accountants, caretakers and politicians” who were “able to make connections between theology and their everyday lives, more confident in their faith, more confident in Christ, more confident in their gifts, and more confident in their vocation, as lay people, to join God in his mission to transform our nation and our world”.

Jane Patterson (Sheffield) had served as an elected member of the Crown Nominations Commission since 2012, and, through 16 CNC meetings, each diocese had called for a new bishop who could “challenge a culture of clericalism”. At the last CNC meeting, the Archbishop of York had asked her to give thanks before lunch. She said that this was the first time at a CNC meeting that a lay member had been asked to do so.

A member of the Lay Leadership Task Group, Alison Coulter (Winchester), said that the biggest insight of the group was the realisation that its understanding of “the Church” was too small. “We tend to talk about the gathered church on a Sunday, but we are still the Church Monday to Saturday,” she said.

She commented that she had recently been asked to do two pieces of work: one for the NHS and the other for the church. She had asked somebody to pray for her before her work for the church. “When did you last pray for people in their workplaces?” she asked.

The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) said that he represented a Christian community that had experienced more than 400 years of giving a central place to all members of the congregation — to lay ministry. The report made a “convincing case” on discipleship and ministry, but there was still much to do. He agreed with the two cultural shifts, but suggested that a third could be added. “Our theology should be wide enough to recognise that there are other signs of the Kingdom of God outside our own Church,” he said. There was a case for identifying other partnerships as part of the “reimagining” of the future of the nation which the Archbishop of Canterbury had referred to in his presidential address. “God is calling us to work with those who show Kingdom values,” he concluded. “This needs spelling out and made a matter of strategy.”

In her maiden speech, Alexandra Podd (C of E Youth Council) welcomed the report but said that she was disappointed about its “lack of strategy” to help young people to become disciples, especially in schools. It acknowledged that young people were under-represented, but risked “wasting” this opportunity. Church attendance of young people had fallen, but those who did stay could make an impact, she said. “Train the young to develop discipleship skills, which will stay with them for rest of their life.”

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott (Canterbury), said that he did not think the Church had done enough in terms of lay discipleship. “It has been many years,” he said, “since we have met separately as lay and clergy, because we believe this is the only way the Church should work together.”

He questioned whether this report would stand the test of time, since it contained “too much technical solution” and needed to look at “adaptive change” in a complex situation. “Lay people will have better answers to the question of lay ministry than we dare to believe,” he said. “What are the laity doing with the gifts they were brought at confirmation?” More instructive changes were needed, he concluded.

Dr Nicholas Land (York) taught at the Christian Medical Conference as an NHS medical director at the weekend. There was “too big a gap” between discipleship at work and on a Sunday, he said. “Work is ministry.” The NHS was suffering, he said,
but what story should I tell? “We will tell those who have the power to rectify, but as Christians we should be messengers of the Good News. We are not saved through work, but we are God’s handiwork.”

The Archdeacon of Barking, the Ven. Dr John Perumbalath (Chelmsford), warned that it was not just the 98 per cent who needed liberation, and that this liberation was not from the two per cent. The report talked about the national Church’s taking a lead through new appointments, research, and communication, but he hoped that this would not be seen as a “top-down” exercise. The good work was happening on the ground. “We need to pay attention to our diversity and complexity. How can we flourish when a good number feel left behind? The working-class, the black and minority-ethnic community, the young, the old, are treated as second-class,” he said. “Are we going to touch the 98 per cent, or just a part of them?”

The Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs (Northern Suffragans), said that he had not been intending to speak, because he had written a reflection for the House of Bishops, but he wanted to strike a “more positive note” than the Bishop of Dover had. Few bishops had chosen to contribute to the debate, because it had already been discussed, and they were in support, he said.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said that she was the only diocesan bishop who had trained on a course and not at a theological college. At her training scheme, all the students were lay people who were together exploring whether they would be called to lay or ordained ministry. “I thank God for my rather unconventional beginning in ministry,” she said.

One of the most important things that the Church of England could do was to free itself from clericalism. The power of this dynamic could be seen in how many reports on lay ministry had come out, and yet still the Synod came back year after year “bewailing the fact that the gifts of our lay people are not sufficiently valued”.

“Our energies should not be into going for a perfect report. Our energies should be about a deep commitment to culture change,” Bishop Hardman said. Clergy who knew they were valued and appreciated were able to equip the laity for ministry.

The Chaplain-in-Chief of the RAF, the Ven. Jonathan Chaffey (Armed Forces Synod), compared the Church to a Royal Navy warship, where it was essential that the hundreds of sailors work together if they were to succeed in their cause and “fulfil their commander’s intent”. The report was prophetic because it both chastened — in calling for a change in culture — and inspired in seeing mission holistically as the activity of God in the world. “These changes need to be undergirded by prayer, culture change, and modelling by us all,” he said.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) said that it was sad that a report on the laity had come out in 2011, and six years later the Synod was still debating the outcome. It seemed that nothing was happening, he said. “The report uses language like ‘seismic revolution’. I hope you will be welcoming that.”

Implementing the report was not the work of the Bishops or of new structures, but up to “you and me”, he said. The priest pastored and taught the laity, who then must be sent out to be “priesthood for the parish”. “It’s a call to all of us, lay and ordained alike. We all take responsibility for that.”

The Vice-Chair of the House of Laity, Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield), said that, while everyone welcomed the report, actions spoke louder than words. The lay members of the Synod had to be the “frontline troops” implementing the report’s recommendations. “Please, don’t wait. Have courage.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, told a story about Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who, when asked by a member of a congregation “When are you going to give us better clergy?”, had replied: “The problem is that clergy come from the laity.”

Dr Sentamu said of the clergy: “We were once the people [laos] of God!”

When he had come to faith in Uganda, he had been prepared for confirmation by lay people; it was part of the culture that lay people were responsible for training in the Ugandan Church. Aged 17, he had been told by a church leader that he had to preach an evangelistic sermon. “He saw in me the potential to be an evangelist; and the big man was willing to support the little lad. This needed to be done in English churches. “We need to rediscover the gifts of the Spirit in the people of God.”

In Yorkshire, he said, “we get a lot of rain, and people always talk about the weather. If only we talked about Jesus like we talk about weather, Yorkshire would be converted.”

Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together) was concerned that the report had not considered the position of deaf people. Deaf churches were closing or in decline because clerics were moving on and not being replaced; and there were some dioceses with no clergy responsible for ministering to deaf people. “The role of clergy may be to spot people in congregations who have the potential to develop as leaders. But in churches without clergy, the ability to spot those potential leaders isn’t there.”

Access to training was difficult for deaf people because of a lack of funding for interpreters.

Vivienne Goddard (Blackburn) was excited about that report but also worried about its future, because she had been “harping on about this since 1980”.

The problem, she said, was with finance, because “we don’t put money into lay leadership or lay training or lay anything.” In one diocese, she had been asked to be the local-ministry officer, but had been asked by the Bishop: “How are we going to pay you if we can’t ordain you?” She is a traditional Anglo-Catholic.

She also criticised the first recommendation of the report, which was to appoint “a designated Episcopal Champion for the culture-shift to whole-life discipleship”. Commenting on this, she said: “I am not anti-bishop — I’m married to one — but there is a sense that we can’t move without a bishop.”

The lay chair of a diocesan synod, Carol Wolstenholme (Newcastle), said that she had been working on a project in the diocese to challenge the culture of deanery synods. There was concern that the voices of lay people were not often heard. Research had shown that many did not understand the culture and language of the Church and were intimidated by the confidence of the clergy.

Working to challenge this, policy changes had resulted in an “evident” change in the climate and contributions at the diocesan synod and Bishop’s Council.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that in an under-sevens’ football match the players all ran to where the ball was, and when the ball moved they all moved to where the ball had gone. If the Church wasn’t to be like that, “we all need to know our position in order to be an effective team together,” he said. “We all have separate gifts, and we need to exercise those.”

Anne Martin (Guildford) said that the report was “long overdue” because “many middle-of-the-road. ordinary Anglicans in the Church of England have felt over the last few years that their voice has not been heard, that their contributions have not been valued, and they haven’t known what to do about it.”

She wanted “an assurance that all clergy would read the report and take it seriously, discussing it at chapter meetings and with laity”.

Dr Meg Warner (London) said that “Lay people are not simply people unfortunate enough not to have been ordained. They actually have something that most clergy don’t have: they live and work in the real world.”

She called for greater opportunities for the clergy and laity to undertake theological education together; and highlighted the experience of the diocese in Europe, which had brought together clergy and laity in diocese-wide training conferences as part of its diocesan synods — a model also used in the Anglican Church of Australia. “Lay people are hungry, and thirst for theological education which is real and which they can apply in their contexts.”

The Synod approved the motion:

That this Synod:

(a) welcome the report from the Archbishops’ Council, Setting God’s People Free (GS 2056); and

(b) call on the Archbishops’ Council to develop the implementation plan referred to in section 5 of the report and to work closely with the House of Bishops and the dioceses in taking in forward.

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
With Sam Wells, Catherine Fox, Mark Oakley, Suzannah Lipscomb and many others. 
See the full programme

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Theology Slam is back, continuing its search for the most engaging young voices on theology and the contemporary world. Find out more

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)