PAUL CHRISTODOULOU writes:
To have had the opportunity to attend the Festival Eucharist, celebrating 150 years of Reader Ministry since its re-establishment by Convocation on Ascension Day 1866 was truly an honour. Especially as this service, held at All Souls’ Church in Langham Place, London was in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and presided over by The Archbishop of York, The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu. This was a ticket-only event too, with a very limited number allocated to each diocese so I was indeed truly humbled to have had the opportunity to attend.
Although a fairly large church, the attendance was around 200, which made the service feel so much more intimate. You see so many special services with royalty in attendance on television that seem so big, it feels like you are closer when you are watching from home than actually being there, so this was a pleasant surprise.
When viewing a copy of the original minutes of that historic meeting in 1866, attended by three Archbishops and seventeen bishops, which detailed the role of a Reader which were printed in the Order of Service, it stated this a the role of Reader: ‘To read lessons in the church, to read prayers and Holy Scriptures and explain the same in such places as the Bishops license shall define’
The service itself used Readers throughout, almost in line with the original directives, and was split into three sections. The first being the Liturgy of the Word, read by Readers with all three readings coming from the New Testament themed on Ascension, with a Psalm sung in-between readings one and two, and the second reading being read in Welsh, reminding us of the renewed link between the Welsh Reader institutions and the Central Readers Council in England.
The second section was the Act of Dedication, where all Readers present were asked to stand and dedicate themselves afresh to his service, as heralds of his Gospel and ministers of his grace. For me, this was something I didn’t expect, the chance to ‘take part’ in the service and with my fellow Readers from around the UK and Europe and before such high company, have the opportunity to reaffirm my calling to be faithful in prayer, and by word and example, to serve those for whom Christ died.
The third section was the Liturgy of the Sacrament, to share in the Eucharist on this, the feast of the Ascension, to break bread together, becoming one with Christ in faith and hope and love. It was also humbling to see fellow Readers distributing both the bread and wine to those attending. If I could find one criticism of the whole service, it would be the sadness that this was not done on a much larger scale, with over 10,000 Readers in the Church of England and around 200 in attendance at this service which was the capacity of All Souls’. Although many Dioceses, including Leeds, are having a their own service of celebration for Readers (in which, at Leeds, all Readers, including myself, will be re-licensed).
I came away feeling truly uplifted and re-energised, filled with the Holy Spirit and ready to continue on my journey as a Reader and also be one of those who help Reader Ministry continue for another 150 years. Archbishop John Sentamu said at the start of the service, ‘We are here to celebrate 150 years of Reader Ministry and as I look at those here today, I feel I can say with confidence, it is 150, not out.’
Will there be another 150 years of Reader Ministry? Difficult to say, probably yes, but I am sure it won’t be in the way know it today. Even now its definition is still not well defined. (It remains a surprise to me how many Readers today do not wear robes at all.) Lay Ministry is evolving, splitting into many areas. Will the same theology training needs be required for all forms of Lay Ministry is difficult to see, and there is a fear that Readers will simply disappear in the mix. I believe (and pray) this will not happen, but we shall see over time.