Next Sunday is Reader Sunday and this year we celebrate 150 years of Reader Ministry in its present form. I say in its present form, because through history, there has been some form of reader ministry and the earliest detailed description of Christian service is given in The Apology of Justin Martyr written in Rome about 155AD, which makes a reference to the Reader distinct from the President and the deacons.
I must admit that when I first began my training and until recently, I had no idea that the ministry had been going on for so long, so I hope you don’t mind if I share a bit more of the history with you and what was expected of the earliest readers and now.
A recent definition I found stated that, “Readers are lay people, called by God, trained and licensed by the Church to preach, teach, lead worship and assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work”.
This has changed quite significantly since the ministry first began when Readers were expected to literally read in church, teach in Sunday School and organise activities for young people. They also lectured to adults and ran Bible classes and would appear as leaders of worship in mission halls or in the open air.
The Bishop of Bangor said in 1884, that he wanted, “Christian men who can bridge the gap between the different classes of society” and, of course, until 1969 Readers were men.
The First World War, as with so many occupations changed the role slightly as better educated Readers were permitted to preach in the church building, but at that time the service was concluded before the sermon. The Bishop of Manchester went on to encourage Readers to preach within the evening services and so the role began to change for future Readers.
Today there are 9,000 active readers in England and Wales and I know I speak for many when I say that the training today is intense, but the rewards of encouraging Christians in their faith journey are well worth it.
Even in the very early days, Readers had to meet a certain criteria and in The Apostolic Church Order published before 200AD, it stated that: (and I apologise for the wording):
“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”.
Basically, able to read and speak clearly and sensibly!
It seem to tell us quite a lot about the society at the time and of course, they were not expected to do any training only to be literate and usually well educated.
Throughout history though one thing that runs parallel was the fact that Readers were expected to know God-talk (theology) and to be able to interpret readings to make the scriptures come alive and relevant to society at the time.
Rev. Deborah, and I hope I don’t embarrass you too much, certainly brings scripture to life with all her experience and the props she uses, which I know many of us enjoy.
So, as a Reader I’ll do my best today.
One of the many things I learnt during all my training was the immense faith I developed, not only in the tutors to educate me and my own ability, but I developed a deep meaningful faith in God.
The word ‘faith’ I feel is extremely difficult to describe to others especially non-believers, but all the readings today have the theme of faith. I remember when my dad was trying to teach me to have trust or faith, he or my brother (I can’t remember which) stood behind me and told me to fall back into his arms. Something Rev. Deborah demonstrated with Sunday School a while back and something I’m sure many of us have seen when people have talked about trust or faith. We all need to have that trust, that faith to pray to God and to leave whatever problem we have in his hands.
The Israelites in Babylon, who Jeremiah wrote to, had to have that deep faith to believe that the Lord was going to look after them, they had to settle, to grow food and to live in harmony with the people in whose city they had been taken to.
Paul we know had an intense and amazing faith when we think about all the hardships he had to suffer and endure, but even when in prison, he continued to encourage the churches he established and those who followed him, to remember Jesus Christ and the salvation that he brought to all through his death on the cross. Paul says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
Luke, in the Gospel today, then tells us about the lepers and the faith that made them clean, but it is only one out of the 10 that returns to thank God and praise him.
We never hear about what happened later with the other nine and this seems to be a theme in the Gospels. It’s a bit like one of those films that you know has a happy ending, but sometimes you’d like to see what happens next, although it’s usually fairly predictable.
I like to think that even though there was only one who returned the other nine would at least tell people about what had happened to them and perhaps their ears were open to receive the good news from the disciples. They may even have become followers.
Faith can have an enormous impact on an individual and hearing, or should I say, discerning the call from God plays an important part in it. The leper, who returned to Jesus, may have been called by God and perhaps went on to become a disciple to spread the gospel in his village and the surrounding area.
This is the same in the church today, we are all called by God in some way or another to spread the gospel. It may be to become a Reader, OLM, ALM or even a Priest, or it may be to serve God in a different way, because every action we take is a calling. The parable of the sheep and goats in (Matthew 25: 31-46) goes a bit of a long way round to tell us that whatever we do for our fellow brothers or our sisters we do for Jesus Christ and ultimately we are serving God.
Therefore, the Healing Ministry, Sunday School teachers, wardens, social committees, sides persons or just being present here praying for others and singing God’s praises, we are serving God.
All these are an acceptance of God’s calling and are a testament to the faith we all share.
Let us pray:
O God, you are the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you: help me to know you that I may truly love you, and so to love you that I may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: Christine Hardy Reader, © St. Margaret Church, Prestwich & St. George Church Simister.
Resources used: The Reader Magazine, Prayer: Peregrini Resource book.