Making things a bit clearer

At Parish & People, we worked hard on the text of our Manifesto for Taking Lay Ministry Seriously. Our aim – as always – is to say what we mean and mean what we say.

Words, however, are never completely reliable. They can carry overtones of meaning; and different readers can pick up different resonances.

So, if at any point you are not sure what we mean, tell us by emailing, and we will try to clarify things on this page.

Bishop Colin Buchanan has spotted a number of ambiguities:

  • On paragraph 2 (c), he comments, “I am still not sure whether your second sentence is recommending professional training for all, or is regretting the distancing of professionals from the rest, thus preventing the rest from ministering.”

Our response: The ‘distancing’ is the problem, in that it has allowed a culture to develop in which lay people have been encouraged to expect too much of their clergy and too little of themselves. 

The text of 2 (c) should perhaps read: Professionalism has replaced status as the ethos in ‘training for the ministry’. This has allowed the impression to grow that lay people can only share in ministry if they too receive the training which clergy have received.

  • Bishop Colin queries the heading for paragraph 3. He comments: The heading says clergy cannot (by definition presumably) be Jack/Jill of all trades, but [the text] says in effect that they could if there were enough of them.”

Our response: What the population has expected from the parish clergy of the established Church of England has evolved and changed over the centuries. The popular image today, especially outside our larger towns and cities, still owes much to the latter part of the 19th century and to a time when the parson and the squire shared a privileged position in society. Even today many clergy harbour a sense of guilt that they cannot meet these expectations, and even in some cases an almost subliminal sense of hurt that for many in society respect has been replaced by ridicule. It is a sense of guilt not experienced by those ordained in other Christian traditions.

These unreal expectations lead the Church to frame the problem today as ‘a shortage of clergy’, whilst it continues to undervalue what lay people are already doing.

  • Bishop Colin also asks about paragraph 4, where the Manifesto calls for a radical change of perspective.

Our response: The radical change in perspective is set out in 4 (f): “Ministry is what responsible Christians have been doing throughout history. It is the practical outworking of their discipleship in the service of God’s mission.” Perhaps this is where the paragraph should have begun!

There is an essential equality under God between all who are engaged in ministry, whether they are lay or ordained. But equality does not mean uniformity.

The ministry of the whole people of God is foundational. Ministry is the practical outworking of discipleship in the context of God’s mission. From this perspective the important and distinctive roles of the threefold ordained ministry of deacons, priests and bishops can then be brought into clearer focus.

  • In paragraph 5 – headlined ‘All are ministers and all are lay’ – Bishop Colin asks what we mean by calling for lay ministry outside the Church to be “fully recognised”.

Our response: The reality is that many mature and articulate Christians are already exercising their ministry outside the church, often alongside others who are not from the same congregation. The problem is that this vital work of serving God’s mission is apparently almost always overlooked or ignored when plans are made for ministry within the congregation.

Parish & People would not for one moment wish to see this more dispersed activity formally ‘recognised’, as though the Church needed to approve it, or authorise or license it, before it could be affirmed as ‘genuine’ ministry. But neither is it healthy when so little account is taken of this foundational ministry by which God’s mission is served.

These mature and articulate Christians know their need for opportunities to reflect prayerfully with others about what they are doing. Yet this kind of support is rarely a priority within their local church.