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Reader Ministry around the Church

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5th May 2006
Even more thoughts on Reader Ministry
Some more comments on Ronnie King's article - Recycling Reader Ministry
I would like to submit the following in response to the debate caused by Ronnie King’s article:
Some while ago I listened to a radio programme which began by the presenter asking his guest, a Roman Catholic Deacon, to explain something about his role as a “Permanent” Deacon.

The explanation that he gave was that there were two types of Deacon. First of all, there were those who were in the Diaconate as part of the route to the priesthood and, secondly, those who were permanent Deacons. The latter though theologically trained, would remain in ordinary employment and may even be married and have a family. The RC Deacon further explained that there was no distinction between the two types of Deacon in respect of ministry. In each case the Deacon’s role is seen as being that of service, and defined as:
  • the service of the altar;

  • the service of the word;

  • in reading the Gospel;

  • in preaching and teaching;

  • and, in service within the community.

    This short definition of the Deacon’s role, as given in the radio programme, reflects many of the various aspects of the Reader’s ministry. The Reader certainly has a liturgical role as expressed in the service of the altar assisting the priest within the worship of the Christian community, especially at the Eucharist. But there is also that role as a teacher and interpreter of the Word, as well being involved in various kinds of service within the wider community.

    The service of the altar
    This is expressed in assisting in the liturgy of the Word at the Eucharist, and in the administration of both chalice and paten. It may occasionally involve having to “preside” at a communion service where it is necessary to administer the reserved sacrament because the incumbent is engaged elsewhere. In a similar way, the service of the altar can be applied to taking the reserved sacrament to the sick and housebound, and sharing with them a sign of unity with the larger body of the church.

    Other sacramental roles for the deacon are expressed through baptism (in the preparation as well as in the actual baptising), and anointing the sick. These are roles that a Reader could quite easily take on if he/she is not already involved in such ministry.

    The service of the word
    This is twofold: the liturgical function, overlapping with the ministry of the altar, of reading the Gospel, and occasionally preaching at the Eucharist. Then there are the other services, principally the service of the word (such as Morning or Evening Prayer) where the Reader will be involved in the leading of service as well as preaching and in the interpretation of Scripture. It may well be that the teaching aspect of the “service of the word” will occur more often in the “informal” settings of the house-group, Alpha course or other activity where there is the opportunity for discussion, question and answers.

    Service within the community
    This is one of those areas where the Reader has a distinct advantage. He is living and working in a different community to that of the priest. The Reader at the workplace would be interacting with the same people day after day and would get to know their needs and interests. He would be able to express the Christian viewpoint into many situations and be able to reflect the hopes and desires of the wider community in his preaching and prayers.
    Service within the community can cover a whole range of activities: trade union representative; local magistrate; school governor; race relations panel; social group committee; youth organisations. The list is endless and allows the Reader a wide scope of involvement according to individual interests and inclination. Such involvement puts the Reader in a position where he can truly be the representative of the church in that “community”.

    Change of Name?
    The title “Reader” has had a negative response from those outside the church, as well as within church circles. Outsiders, as well as those in church circles, see the Reader as being a person who conducts services in the vicar’s absence; perhaps even as a failed parson! In some parishes, the office of Reader is regarded as redundant; the Reader having been replaced with locally appointed “worship leaders” and the preaching role retained as the sole preserve of the clergy, (though in some cases, this particular function is given over to all and sundry).
    That said, to ordain Readers of ten years standing as members of a parochial diaconate (as suggested by Ronnie King) would be a good means of revitalising the existing and (perhaps) undervalued Reader ministry and showing it to be within the threefold ministry of the Church of England.

    In conclusion
    A change of name would also be a means of showing that the present Reader ministry is a real and valid distinctive ministry within the church. Such a designation as “Parochial Deacon” would be more universally recognised, rather than using a title that gives the outsider an imprecise definition of a role.
    As Readers, we already hold a distinctive office within the church, but let that ministry and office be recognised for what it is, that of a distinctive Diaconate and as part of the threefold ministry of the Church.


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