A lay reader (in some jurisdictions simply reader) or licensed lay minister (LLM) is a layperson authorized by a bishop in the Anglican Communion to lead certain services of worship or lead certain parts of a service. They are members of the congregation permitted to preach and preside at some services, but not called to full-time ministry.
Anglican lay readers are licensed by the bishop to a particular parish or to the diocese at large. In the former case, in some areas, their tenure expires with the resignation of the parish priest. In the Anglican tradition, the role of licensed lay readers, whose prominence varies by region, is similar to that of a non-conformist lay preacher, and can involve:
- Conducting Mattins, Evensong, and Compline (BCP) or a service of the word (Common Worship)
- Reciting the Litany
- Act as the liturgical deacon at the Eucharist
- Publishing banns of marriage
- Preaching, teaching, and assisting in pastoral care
- Conducting funerals
- Distributing (though not presiding at) Holy Communion.
- Participation at other services as requested by their incumbent
Although in many parishes these duties can be performed by any reasonably competent lay person who has been properly instructed, the key to the Reader's licence is that he or she is permitted to do them in the absence of a priest. Licensed Readers are entitled to wear a blue tippet with choir dress. The Anglican Consultative Council has laid out its recommendations for the theological education that all laity should receive.
Training to become a Reader is rigorous and follows a period of testing and preparation. In many diocese this involves some form of access training that introduces the concept of theological reflection as well as the nature of ministry. All potential readers attend a Diocesan Advisory Panel to test their calling and assess their suitability for the role. The recommendations from this are fed to the PCC in the candidates own parish who must endorse they will support the candidate during training and will agree to the candidate going forward for licensing. Training takes place over 2 or 3 years at a local theological college and is often shared with ordinands and those preparing for other types of ministry. Reader training in the Church of England is overseen by the University of Durham and all candidates study for a CertEd or Diploma in theology. All Readers will have a working agreement in place which is agreed with their incumbent. This outlines their duties and aims to promote a balance between their work and family commitments.
Reader training usually incorporates a selection of the following and this can vary across training colleges
- Old Testament
- New Testament
- Christian theology
- Liturgy and worship
- Pastoral care
- Study of local context
- The nature of Christian salvation
- Church history
- Leadership skills and self-awareness (usually a Myers Briggs workshop)
- Ministry to the dying and bereaved
- Preaching skills
On top of this there are practical skills that are learnt within the home parish such as leading worship and preaching. At the end of training the PCC has to agree to the candidate going forward for licensing. The candidate is licensed as well as admitted to the Order of Readers at a service in their local cathedral. The following day their license is read in their home church and the new Reader preaches at that service.
The first female lay readers were licensed during the First World War due to the shortage of men. They existed in 22 Dioceses in England and 1 diocese in Canada. The first group were called "Bishop's Messengers". There was then a gap until 1969 when more female lay readers were appointed.
In the Church of England, the office used to be known simply as Reader. Following a working party report to General Synod in 2009 most dioceses have adopted the title Licensed Lay Minister (Reader), or LLM (Reader). Their theological training enables them to preach, teach, and lead worship, and they are also able to assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work.
The office of Lay Reader has existed in its present form since 1866, and there are now around ten thousand lay readers in the Church of England. They are virtually all over 40, equally split between women and men.
For the purposes of carrying out the practical aspects of their training for ordination, students studying for the ordained ministry may be licensed as Student Readers. In some provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as the Church of Ireland, a Student Reader's licence permits them to serve in any diocese rather than being bound (as in the case of a Lay Reader) to the diocese of their licensing bishop.
- Anglican Consultative Council, "Theological Education for the Anglican Communion Laity Target Group" (Anglican Communion Office, 2014) at http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/theological/teac/grids/LaityGrid110406.pdf.
- "GS1689" (PDF).
- "Church of England Readers - Central Readers' Council". Church of England Readers. 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- Kuhrt, Gordon W. (2001). Ministry Issues for the Church of England: Mapping the Trends. Church House Publishing. p. 134. ISBN 0-7151-8122-X. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- http://www.readers.cofe.anglican.org/. Accessed January 2, 2015.