Clare Rabjohns calls for an increase in work for the laity

As someone who does not want to be ordained there are few opportunities to work in a church, especially few full-time paid jobs.

Most roles in the parish are actually done – or should be done! – by lay people: maintaining the running of the church day-to-day, PCC members, those who contribute to music, flowers, cleaning, planning social activities and co-ordinating groups that meet in the church, youth and children’s work. These roles, however, are generally not recognized or given a status, which can often mean that people in these roles feel unable to get their voices heard or to be fully involved in decision making. Lay people need to be equipped, not only with resources and training, but also with some kind of status that enables them to be heard and play an active role in parish life.

The pastoral assistant schemes that exist in London and in a few other parishes across the country are not simply there to provide experience for Ordinands. They offer opportunities for anyone wanting to serve God in a parochial context. The variety of experience is invaluable for building towards a future career of a similar nature but is also important personally for learning about church and parish life, the church as a whole, your position within that set-up and the vital role that lay people play within it also.

Politically the church is at a crossroads at this time and therefore it is now particularly important to be thinking about growth, mission and the pastoral care of its members. The clergy alone cannot do this and there needs to be a re-visioning of the church to move away from priest-dominant ideas of ministry.

Education plays a really important part in this. Firstly for church leaders, so that they are prepared and enabled to support and guide lay people to grow in leadership. Secondly for lay people; to encourage the realization that the church cannot stay as it is and to empower them in the knowledge that their role is vital to the future of the church. Often their life experience, personality and skills can fill holes in parish life and ministry which no one else can.

Priests are called firstly to pray and pastorally care for their people. They are needed to be responsible for the running of the parish – financially, spiritually and in mission and growth – and most importantly to administer the sacraments to their people. There are so many jobs within the running of the parish that can and need to be done by lay people, some also which can be done much better by lay people than by the priest. This can often be because the role of the ‘priest’ is set apart but therefore some things can come across better when given from a different angle, from a lay person. Priests may also not naturally have some skills which other people do have – for example, music, finance, or running a Sunday school or youth group. Lay people fully utilized in these roles can also mean that priests then have more time to spend on doing the roles that only priests can do, such as sacramental worship.

More, however, needs to be done. Firstly, lay people and young people especially need to be presented with the opportunity to see varying perspectives on the Christian life to help them explore their vocation and place in the church. This may be from talking to different people from different backgrounds, or experiencing various forms and styles of worship and other settings of Christian living outside the parish. This could be through spending time in places where worship takes place in a less familiar context, such as a monastic community, or through guided exploration of other areas where preaching and teaching the Gospel are important such as hospitals, schools and prisons, and in community projects and outreach.

Secondly, the move away from the priest-dominant set-up of ministry needs to be made. Parish ministry should of course be priest-centred. The parish priest has the ultimate pastoral responsibility for the flock. However, the idea that the priest is the only person who needs to do pastoral visiting, mission, outreach, care for members of the parish, youth work and everything in between is one that needs to be challenged. It is the calling of every Christian to ‘be Jesus’ to the world around them.

This is necessary for two reasons; the first being that it is the calling of all the baptized, and now, more than ever, that calling needs to be recognized. The church is not lacking in people who are ready and willing, but there is a feeling of fear about the future. All that means, however, is that rather than holding back, there is now a particular need to take seriously the call to mission.

Secondly, that future of mission can only be one filled with hope for the church if there is a re-visioning of how vocation and ministry work within it. Lay people’s vocations to serve need to be recognized and given a place within the church.

God is the one with whom there is no shadow of a change. For that reason there is no need to fear for the future of the church; he is still the same God who calls us to serve him. We, the laity, do however need to listen more carefully to what his Spirit is saying to the church and hear his call to rise up and follow him, in whatever way that may be personal to us. Church leaders need to listen also and make it possible for the lay people around them to rise up. It is only in this way that the church will be enabled to face the challenges the future holds. ND