'Official' recognition and effective lay Ministry in the Diocese of Chelmsford
AbstractThe dissertation aims to explore the value lay people in the Church of England today attach to "official" recognition in encouraging them to exercise a ministry. The author's own experience both of parish ministry and tutoring a diocesan course of Christian education convinced her that there was a wealth of gifts amongst lay people which was in danger of being unrecognised or at least seriously undervalued. Three factors appeared particularly significant: firstly the lack of any universal recognition for lay ministry apart from Readers; secondly the perception of a lay/clerical divide. Despite the biblical picture of the church as a body with many equal but different parts, clergy have been seen as the paid professionals and laity as the amateur volunteers. Yet at parochial level the laity, mostly unlicensed, have taken a significant role in the running of the local church and its outreach to the community; Thirdly the rapid changes in contemporary postmodern society. Most lay people are now used to role definition, recognition, and job specification in secular employment. Moreover changing patterns in both family life and the employment field have started a revolution, in consequence of which a vast army of lay women is rapidly disappearing from 'active service1 in the church. This dissertation relies heavily on unstructured interviews with a number of past students from the Chelmsford Diocesan Course in Christian Studies for which the author was a senior tutor. To balance these the author also interviewed lay people from her own church who had not undertaken this course. The aim was to focus on the perceptions of lay people themselves. The dissertation also draws on research material from a follow-up survey of CCS students and information about a range of current diocesan schemes of lay training as well as studying current literature and thinking on this subject. The research found that certain common issues arose from my interviews. Lay people valued highly both the "official" recognition of a formal diocesan scheme and the informal affirmation of their role and gifts by clergy within their local church. They also viewed lay education as foundational to any ministry, both stimulating it and giving confidence to exercise it. In considering this lay perspective and also taking into account Scriptural tradition, the contemporary cultural context, and the current diversity of diocesan practices, the dissertation makes a case for: appropriate training and commissioning of all confirmed church members as disciples called to Christian service; national recognition of lay pastoral ministry in the local church; a reformed permanent diaconate incorporating many who currently exercise a ministry as Readers, Non-Stipendiary Ministers and Ordained Local Ministers.
TypeThesis or dissertation
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