THE recruitment of a younger and more diverse body of Readers is among the aims of a new strategy agreed by the Central Readers’ Council of the Church of England, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, said last week.
More lifelong, flexible learning was being recommended, he said, because the current pattern of training was a “primary blocker” for younger candidates.
“It has been very demanding, doing a three-year training course on top of a full-time job and family life,” he said. “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to say that lots of people are put off.
Our long-term hope is that we can work with dioceses to enable training to be much more flexible, with a much greater emphasis on lifelong learning rather than front-loaded. You start doing your training, you’re then licensed, and you carry on training as you exercise ministry.”
The council has recently completed a national consultation on the future of Readers: meetings were held in six regions, at which every diocese was represented.
The plans, voted for by an “overwhelming majority” at last month’s AGM, propose that training should concentrate on forming Readers as “teachers of the faith, enablers of mission, and leaders in Church and society”.
One of the catalysts for the plans was the flourishing of a “huge variety” of lay ministries, Bishop Snow said. “Where, 50 years ago, for lay ministry you became a Reader, there are now a dozen different options of training and authorisation. . . It begs the question what, then, is the role of the Reader?”
He pointed to the changing context in society and the Church. Readers who worked in many different spheres were “ideally placed to be teaching others about what it means to live out our faith in the workplace and in our social networks”, and there was a “huge need for people who are relatively new to the faith to be taught the basics”.
Meanwhile, many Readers occupied positions of leadership in churches; some had been asked to take charge of a church within a united benefice, for example.
In September, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, wrote to Readers in the diocese of York, inviting them to consider ordination to the diaconate (News, 23 September). The first two, Kingsley Boulton and Patricia Wood, were ordained last month, and at least two other dioceses are also pursuing this path.
“I am behind that exploration, as long as it is done in a way that does not undermine those Readers who are absolutely clear about their vocation into lay ministry,” Bishop Snow said.
“My concern is the danger that it is heard by Readers to reinforce the message that they are sort of second-class, and ought to be ordained, and the only thing the Church is interested in is ordained ministry. I am passionately opposed to that.” (Letters, 2 March)
The council, an independent charity, was “not trying to make a decision on behalf of the Church”, he said. “We can make the offer to dioceses, and time will tell whether they will pick it up or not. This is about getting a wider conversation going, and trying to affirm Readers in their ministry, and encourage them.”