Church has forgotten how to tell the Christian story

31 May 2019

Central Council of Readers: ‘We desperately need skilled teachers who will live the story’

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THE Church has forgotten how to tell the Christian story to the 93 per cent of people who have little or no contact with it, a new report from the Central Council of Readers suggests.

“We desperately need skilled teachers who will live the story, tell the story, and accompany people as they explore the full implications of becoming part of the story,” says Resourcing Sunday to Saturday Faith, a booklet sent to every Anglican Bishop and every Reader in England and Wales this month. “Our argument in this booklet is that Readers are ideally placed to meet this urgent need.”

Setting out the Council’s “renewed vision” for lay ministry, it begins with a diagnosis of the current landscape for evangelism: “a time of great ferment in the Church”, given internal disputes over sexuality, safeguarding failures, and a society where “many are bewildered by the sheer scale of change”. A “fresh perspective” is needed, it suggests.

“The problem is that we have forgotten how to tell our story — or, to put it another way, we have only been telling part of the story,” it argues.

“In part, this is because we simply don’t know the story. The Church has been described as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. Many people in our churches simply haven’t reflected on how the story impacts that many different parts of their lives.”

It goes on to warn that “people will not start to listen because we shout louder or use better social media or more modern music. They will take notice when the Christian they know . . . clearly lives by a different story, and is ready to tell them the story when they ask.”

The report notes that the Church has historically devoted “great time and care” to catechesis, in a process overseen by lay catechists. The C of E is beginning to consider its importance again, it suggests (News, 22 December 2017). Among the skills it lists for Readers are “a thorough knowledge of scripture and tradition”, a love of people and ability to listen well, and a good understanding of how people learn.

The booklet reiterates recommendations that training be made more flexible (News, 4 May 2018), and suggests that it may also become longer: six years would be equivalent to the training offered to clergy. Arguing that “for too long, lay ministry has been viewed as somehow ‘second best’”, it suggests that the terminology of “lay” itself may need to change.
 

Responses: 

Dr Jem Bloomfield, Reader, Southwell & Nottingham:

It puts forward a convincing picture of the Christian ‘story’ in our society. We need to tell this story clearly and articulately, and we need to immerse ourselves in it, to draw on its depth and richness, if we’re going to speak meaningfully to those around us.  

I was encouraged by the emphasis on prayer and study — encouraging ministers to explore the traditions of Christianity and not assume that we already know all we need to. I recognise the outline it sketches of a Church needing to take teaching and learning seriously, in order to reach people who may have very little residual contact with Christianity.

But I had some worries about the vision of Reader ministry it presented, and the assumptions it made. I could see no mention of parishes, which surprised me, since we are licensed to parishes and carry out most of our work in them. The quotation from a management book about “second-chair” leaders who “add value throughout the organisation”, and suggestions of long-term part-time training of up to six years which would ‘blur the lines’ between training and ministry, gives the impression that Readers might be set up as regional middle-management.

The same general flavour came in the theological references — a bit of Rod Dreher, a line from Eugene Peterson, an image from N. T. Wright — which seemed a bit jumbled together to the lowest common denominator. It had little sense that those writers all come from quite distinct contexts, and probably disagree strongly on what “the Church” even is, let alone how their ideas could be applied in the parish around me in the Midlands. It’s a familiar tone in C of E documents at the moment — a sincere and biblically based core, and a real desire to reach those outside Christianity, but little sense of the history, ecclesiology, and theology which must join them up. But perhaps I’m being parochial, in the negative as well as the positive sense.

 

Janet Proudman, Reader, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford:

The rather unevenly written booklet sets out to suggest an expanded view of LLM/Reader ministry by looking outward to our communities. The encouragement and discussion of effective models and methods of teaching the faith, of everyday mission, and of leadership, is refreshing and inspiring. For example, the outlining of “second chair” leadership of teams was highly resonant for LLMs. Doubling the length of training to six years in a more flexible training scheme was suggested, mirroring higher-education practice.

The important ten holy habits for Christian disciples and ministers to resource the Christian life are emphasised. The Church and its lay ministers are challenged by the final questions. I hope the booklet will stimulate the development and scope of LLM/ Reader ministry, and I very much look forward to discussing it at our forthcoming diocesan LLM conference.

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