The Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, joined more than 600 lay Readers at a service in London last week to celebrate 150 years of Reader Ministry. Prince Philip was the guest of honour at All Soul’s Langham Place, in London, for the service which was led by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.
Dr Sentamu interrupted his six-month sabbatical pilgrimage through the Diocese of York to lead the service, which was also attended by around 40 other bishops.
“We were honoured that Prince Philip was able to join us and are grateful to him for his very many years as patron of the Readers Council,” the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, chair of the Readers’ Council, said. “Readers are the unsung heroes of many churches, supporting clergy and congregations as well as conducting funerals and acting as chaplains in places such as prisons and hospitals. It was important to be able to shine a light on this valuable form of ministry and give thanks for generations of quiet dedication and commitment.”
Readers are lay people from all walks of life who are licensed by their bishop to a teaching and preaching ministry. They work with ordained and lay colleagues, usually serving within a ministry team. There are currently over 9,000 active readers in the Church of England and the Church in Wales.
Each diocese has its own programme of training. Many C of E Readers now receive a training award that is accredited by the University of Durham under the Common Awards scheme. Training usually lasts three years and is intended to develop both theological understanding and practical ministry skills.
“Reader ministry has never been static, and, partly as a result of the pressures of two world wars, Readers drifted, willingly for the most part, into the multiple roles of general ecclesiastical factotum, eucharistic minister, often churchwarden, priest’s assistant, omnipresent helper,” Bishop Robert said in his sermon. “That can’t be right: the Church trains Readers to be competent with the Bible, and with the application of Scripture in their context.
“It is a distinct ministry with a distinct potential and a clear integrity, helping other people to hear and make sense of what God is saying to them in their unique place and time. You are trained in theology; God-talk is your specialism, which is why the training is tough and demanding. It’s not about being other-worldly, or technically competent in the dating of Deuteronomy or the symbolism of the Revelation, but being a person who can bring God into the conversation with people who are searching and with those who have lost their way.
“Being a theologian in a secular culture is, in the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, ‘to be exposed to the vision of heaven and to the tragedies of mankind.’”
Festivities marking the 150th anniversary will continue on 16 July with a day festival in Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. “Following the All Souls service of thanksgiving for what has been and what we have, this festival will look forward – growing lay discipleship,” the Readers’ Council secretary, Alan Wakely, said.
Speakers include the writer and biblical studies lecturer Paula Gooder; the chief executive of Church Army, Mark Russell; Mark Greene, author and speaker from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity; the Bible Reading Fellowship’s (BRF) Debbie Thrower; and the founder of the Street Angels movement, Paul Blakey.