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The Office and Work of a Reader – Robert Martineau

April 27, 2015

TOAWOALRAmong my misgivings and self-doubts regarding ordination was the suggestion that as I am primarily gifted as a teacher, I should give myself to a teaching ministry in the Church and thereby concentrate upon what I am good at. That pointed in the direction of my being licensed as a reader. But this suggestion came mainly from those who disapprove of non-stipendiary priesthood because they see the ordained man as one who stands apart from the world- I am so busy in the world, they say, that I am called primarily to be a layman.

I found it hard to take readers seriously because so many cannot preach well and some are pompous, but then my experience of readers is extremely limited because the churches of the tradition I belong to do not, on the whole, use them.

Much of what Bishop Martineau says about the reader having ‘ a distinctive. lay ministry’ could now be said of the NSM in that both value the service to and in the world as part of, not opposed to, the service of the church and both can feed back their experience of the world into the church in a way that a clergyman who is ‘full time’ cannot.

He traces the history of the office of reader back to the synagogue and shows how plural was the form of ministry of subdeacon, lector &c. Those who fear the growing number of ministries which don’t fit neatly into the category of the ‘historic threefold ministry’ do well to remember that there always has been a variety of callings and of service; it cannot be otherwise given that God’s grace perfects whatever it is we already are and that whatever we already are is individual and thus unique.

There is much sound sense in the section of this book devoted to discussing the relationship between the reader and his vicar and descriptions are given of strained relationships following an interregnum and the arrival of a new vicar, with sulks, leaving for another church etc.

I wish several clergy I know would read the chapter on the conduct of services. All the odd mannerisms are commented upon and ways are suggested of overcoming them I particularly like the anecdote about the vicar who was asked which bus went to such and such a destination and who replied ‘Bus number 23, the 23rd bus.’

An excellent chapter on preaching gives fairly run of the mill advice about selecting information and anecdotes after teasing out the meaning of a passage of scripture, all the stuff trained teachers do as bread and butter work but which must need spelling out for others, but it goes on to talk a bit of the responsibility of preaching and the importance of doing one’s creative theology in preparation for the pulpit. The servant of the word is to be mastered by it, not to master it.

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