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13th April 2005
An Expansion to Reader Ministry? - The thoughts of one Reader
Ronnie King (Hereford) writes under the heading "Recycling Reader Ministry" about his experiences, particularly in his current rural setting, and his thoughts on possibilities for the future.
When your Bishop issues a severe warning publicly, “Beware, Jesus came to turn the world upside down and that could mean your world too!” you listen even more intently to this the first sermon from the new Bishop of Hereford, The Rt. Revd Anthony Priddis, preached at the parish church of St Laurence, Ludlow, earlier this year.
I was admitted as a Reader back in 1963 at St James, Weddington, in the Coventry Diocese, by the great Bishop Cuthbert Bardsley. During my ministry I have been constantly challenged and at times never sure whether I was on my head or my heels, but the Holy Spirit has always been active in my ministry.
On retirement three years ago I moved from the south of England to the largest rural diocese in England. Two years ago I was granted a PTO license (Permission to officiate) and for the very first time I found myself ministering week after week to an average village congregation of fifteen people. I now realise that in the rural areas this is the norm, resulting from a shortage of Clergy and Readers. In 2004 there were no new Readers admitted in the Hereford Diocese and the number of Ordinands and Readers in training is minimal. The spin off from this steadily increasing dilemma is diminishing congregations and those that are there are usually elderly and retired. But what is more devastating is the fact that pastoral ministry in the villages is almost non-existent. How can a Team Vicar with five or more village churches, a Hospital Chaplaincy, Governor to the local CE Village School and all that that entails, plus weddings and funerals (a trip to the crematorium writes off almost a day) hope to be able to find time for individual pastoral work and counselling.
The current situation is now desperate, and I believe desperate situations require desperate measures if the tenets of the Gospel are to be revived in the hundreds of villages in England.
We are now living in an age of recycling, so why waste the vast untapped potential of Readers of all ages and all of whom have had three years training and many years of ministry and all of this at no cost to the Church of England. I believe the time is now ripe for some Readers to become Parochial Deacons. If only 25% of Readers made themselves available for this extension of their current ministry this would give the Church of England and indeed the nation a long overdue shot of adrenalin and would cost virtually nothing!
There are many Readers holding PTO licences but because of their age the Church will not accept them for ordination for they are considered ineligible to spend three years in training and a further year as a Deacon before automatically being priested. The overall cost would not justify the means. Does this sound like age discrimination in the Church or just prudent where finances are at a low ebb?
It is now generally acknowledged that we are all living much longer thanks to improved diet, exercise and preventive medicine. Obviously safeguards do need to be applied but a Reader wishing to respond to this challenge of extending his or her ministry would need to assure the diocese of extensive Reader ministry (say ten years), a recommendation by the Rector and the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and final acceptance by the Diocesan Bishop, before being ordained Parochial Deacon. I predict the time scale to be no more than six months. I do not need to spell out the ramifications this would have both pastorally and in many other ways. I believe the results would be phenomenal.
I have deliberately avoided using the phrase “Permanent Diaconate” for whilst this would probably be true of many Parochial Deacons, it does restrict the power of the Holy Spirit with others who may wish to offer themselves for further ordination as Priests but this would require a different agenda and not one to be considered in this paper. Needless to say many Readers may prefer to remain as they are at present but there would always be the opportunity if personal circumstances change for them to become Parochial Deacons.
I am writing this paper in the knowledge that many Readers are as frustrated as St Paul when he talked of being an ambassador in chains. Let me know what you think. I am a great believer in the wisdom of Gamaliel.
If all of this runs the risk of turning your lives upside down, then let us not forget that is why Jesus came, to turn the world upside down.