Marking 150 years of Reader Ministry


Lesley Shatwell, our LLM in training helped St John’s and St Mark’s mark the 150th anniversary of the restoration of Reader ministry in the Church of England by preaching this sermon (well sort-of, she got heckled at St Mark’s so didn’t get through it all… ).

“For Reader, one should be appointed after he has been carefully proved; no babbler, nor drunkard, nor jester; of good morals, submissive, of benevolent intentions, first in the assembly at the meetings on the Lord’s Day, of a plain utterance, and capable of clearly expounding, mindful that he assumes the position of an Evangelist; for whoever fills the ear of the ignorant will be accounted as having his name written with God.”  This comes from “The Apostolic Church Order” which was published before 200 AD.  Mind you, by AD 500, the position of “Reader” had fallen into decline.  It wasn’t until 1561 that the office was revived, but then there were very clear rules:  a Reader was to ‘move men to quiet and concord, and not give them cause for offence’.  They weren’t allowed to do the important things like administering the sacraments, but they were allowed to bury the dead.  Oh and it goes without saying they could not be women.  It seems as though they were a cheap form of priest.

However, 150 years ago on Ascension Day 1866, the office of Reader was revived for a second time.  It happened during a time of huge expansion of the church, particularly within cities of the industrial north and there simply weren’t enough vicars to cope.  Readers took on the role of teacher in Sunday Schools, leading worship in mission halls and teaching Bible classes.  Being lay ministers, they were seen as bridging the gap between the ordained clergy and parishioners.  One clergyman even describing them as ‘the better educated from among the uneducated’ – what a disparaging view of his parishioners that man must have had!

The First World War turned many people’s lives upside down and inside out.  Readers were encouraged to preach during the evening service.  After the war, the element of preaching was retained.  In the 1920s, the first national organisation specifically for Readers was created.  Readers were given better training and standards were raised.

However, it wasn’t until 1969 when women were first licensed – just think what the world had been missing in all those years!  And today, according to the Church of England website, there are more than 10,000 active Readers in the Church of England.

In 2009, the name Licensed Lay Minister (LLM) was coined to replace the term “Reader”.  It was thought to reflect more clearly exactly what we do, but I am not sure it does.  Yes, we do more than read – although through my course I have wondered about that as I wade through the mountain of set books!  We are ministers of the church, but we are laity.  We get into all kinds of places, most are licensed to a parish but some are chaplains in prisons, hospitals, hospices or schools and a few are in charge of parishes.  We have been described as ‘theological resource people working within a pastoral context’.  But what does that really mean?  And more particularly, what does it mean to me and our parish?  On 25 June, provided I pass my remaining assignments, Bishop Andrew will license me to this parish – yes you are stuck with me, I’m not being moved on to another parish.  I will have completed three years of training in topics as diverse as Christian Ethics, how to prepare and give a sermon, Bible Studies – hermeneutics (Old and New Testaments – and a bit of the Apocrypha!), Church History, Mission and Evangelism (didn’t enjoy that one much), Doctrine – that was probably my favourite – oh and Spirituality and Pastoral Theology.  And in my spare time, I’ve been attending church!

So I am coming to the end of this part of my studies (I have another four years within the system still – oh the Church of England doesn’t let anyone loose that quickly, there’s no knowing what I might do to you!).  Alan and I have been discussing my future role within the parish, particularly because I won’t be the only newcomer in July:  Hannah will be joining us as curate (hooray!).  As a lay minister, I have a certain degree of flexibility about my ministry, so I am still on a voyage of discovery.  As you look around you will see an art installation here (come back this afternoon – between 2 and 4 and there will be tea, scones and music too).  I am interested in creative worship and different ways of exploring God – prayer stations, labyrinth, music, art, storytelling, play … wow – now I’m getting carried away!

God calls every one of us.  And God gives us gifts to serve Him and to share with others.  We are happiest and at our most alive when we walk within our God-given-gifts.  God has called me to become a Licensed Lay Minister here and I am so excited to discover where He leads me in my ministry.

Listen, is God calling you?

2 thoughts on “Marking 150 years of Reader Ministry”

    1. It’s traditional at St Mark’s. They like to clarify their understanding. I was asked about hermeneutics and also whether the odd drink once in a while would count as drunkeness. I miss it when no one heckles! Lesley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s