The work of a Lay Reader

Called by God to do Church work

Ken Scott explains the work of the Lay Reader

Ken Scott

Many people, even those who know the Church well, find the role and position of a Lay Reader confusing. Questions such as Who are they? What do they do? What do they not do? What authority do they have? How are they chosen and appointed? are commonplace. I will attempt here to clear up some of these issues.

The office of Reader is one of the oldest ministries in the Church; in its present form it was established in 1866 and its growth has been one of the success stories in the Church. There are now more than 10,000, with men and women represented almost equally. It is the only Church of England lay ministry which is voluntary, nationally accredited, episcopally licensed and governed by Canon.

Readers are lay people from all walks of life, who are called by God, theologically trained and licensed by the Church to preach, teach, lead worship and assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work. They are also known as lay local ministers and although nationally authorised, the scope of ministry and roles undertaken by Readers differs across the dioceses.

As far as public worship is concerned, Readers can read the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, preach in the church, read the service of Holy Communion – excepting those parts reserved to the President – and administer the elements. They may not consecrate the elements used in Communion but can administer those already consecrated.

Readers cannot baptize individuals, except in a dire emergency and they cannot solemnize a marriage. They can, however, conduct a funeral service at the discretion of the Incumbent. Some have seen these distinctions as somewhat arbitrary, particularly in an era of diminishing clergy numbers.

A Reader is licensed to a specific parish but can, with agreement, take services in other churches and other denominations. Readers can also have a pastoral role in the parish and they also take part in staff meetings with the clergy. In church, Readers can be distinguished from their ordained colleagues by the distinctive blue Readers’ scarf.

How do you become a Reader? Those who wish to undertake this ministry in the Church are sponsored by their parish and then undergo a selection process. If accepted, there is a period of part-time training, usually totaling three years. The training has changed significantly over the years in style and content. After licensing by the Bishop there is a regular review process every five years; at the age of 70, this becomes yearly.

There is an expectation that Readers, like all other ministers, will undergo continuing ministerial education and each diocese has its own scheme for providing this. I began training in the late 1970s with the Revd. Barry Rogerson, then vicar of Wednesfield, who became the first Bishop of Wolverhampton and in those days, training was very academic with numerous essays on a wide variety of topics written and assessed. In 1980 I was licensed in Lichfield Cathedral by Bishop Kenneth Skelton; Pattingham is the third church in which I have served.

This is a very rewarding task within the Church and the challenge is to keep the two roles of paid secular employment and Christian ministry running in tandem. It has many avenues for service depending on the Reader and the Incumbent and the needs of the parish.

If you are in any way interested in this type of service within the Church please speak to me or Maureen about it. We will be very pleased to talk to you. The Church of England cannot survive in its present form purely on ordained clergy. There has to be considerable lay leadership involved in many aspects of its work and Readership is one way for this to happen.

Ken Scott

Taken from an article in the November 2017 edition of the Parish News magazine.