MORE and more people choose not to get ordained but put themselves through formal training to allow them to use their gifts as ministers in churches throughout our diocese.
There are 42 Licensed Lay Ministers in training here – the highest number for the last 10 years.
“Their qualification is nationally recognised so if they moved somewhere else they could transfer to another church,” says the Revd Dr Phillip Tovey, the Deputy Warden for LLMs for the Diocese of Oxford.
“LLMs are really important. An LLM can take a funeral and lead most worship that isn’t communion. They especially have an important ministry in the countryside where there are increasingly fewer incumbents.”
Lay readers usually complete three years of part-time training, mainly evening classes on preaching, pastoral care and the Bible, although previous learning is considered. “Someone with a PhD in theology probably won’t take three years to do it,” says Phillip, who brims with enthusiasm when he talks about LLM ministry. “LLM’s are a wonderful gift to the church. It’s interesting to look at this fruitful ministry, watching people’s gifts be used and stretched.
“There are people called to Christian ministry who don’t want to be a priest. Being an LLM provides them with a structure in which they can do that. A number of LLMs go on to be priests but the vast majority don’t and have fruitful and fulfilling ministries.”
Phillip thinks the increasing numbers of LLMs is not down to any recruitment drive but could be linked to people being encouraged to explore vocations more.
“Another factor is that the evening courses we put on are open to anybody. One way of exploring whether you could be an LLM is to come on one of those courses. We take people from any academic background. We have people with no O levels or GCSEs through to professors. We work with people to help them through the course.”
So why do we have Licensed Lay Ministers here when other dioceses call them Lay Readers? “They told us that when they said they were a Reader, people didn’t know what that meant. If you say you are a Lay Minister people connect to that in a way they don’t connect to the term Reader.
“The future holds much broader possibilities for LLMs than has been conceived in the past,” says Phillip. “Once you are a trained LLM there are golden opportunities for development; vocations work, spiritual direction and of course, catechesis.”
Catechesis is an ancient word that is currently being revived, particularly by the Rt Revd Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford. It refers to the teaching, nurturing and discipling of new believers.
Anyone considering a calling to LLM ministry should see their deanery vocations officer who will refer them to an archdeaconry advisor.
BAFTA award-winning editor in the week, LLM at the weekend
BAFTA award-winning film editor David Blackmore finds his day job informs his role as a Licensed Lay Minister.
David was already running a youth group, sharing leadership of a service for young people and families and volunteering as a Christian Aid co-ordinator when his vicar suggested he consider Licensed Lay Ministry.
“I had a busy job and a young family and at first said no, but I went to a vocations breakfast in Aylesbury where I heard inspiring talks about people’s vocations. The more I looked into it the more interesting and appealing it became.”
David admits it was difficult completing the training, finding the time to research and write essays while doing a day job in London. “But since my licensing, it has been great. I have really enjoyed it. It’s been a big part of my faith journey,” he says.
At his own church, St Mary’s, Wendover, David is involved in preaching and leading worship and regularly helps in other parishes during interregnums.
“For four years I’ve been a speaker for Christian Aid. Leading up to Christian Aid Week I meet different church communities and talk to them about the work of Christian Aid focussing on that year’s campaign,” he says.
David coordinates the annual Christian Aid Week door-to-door collection in Wendover, along with other events usually raising £4,000 to £5,000. He has also just been accepted to volunteer as a prison visitor.
David’s day job sees him work on television dramas, for the BBC, Channel Four, ITV and Netflix. One of his proudest moment was when he won a BAFTA for editing the 2016 television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall.
The lengthy list of dramas David has edited includes Poirot, Lark Rise to Candle ford, Inspector Morse and Waking the Dead.
“Like all creative jobs, it’s a roller coaster working with different people. With some teams, it just works well. Wolf Hall was a wonderful book turned into a great script. We had a great production team and an amazing cast as well.”
David works as a freelancer, which means he may be at home for months before being needed in London for months. However, he says he can commit to his ministry because his weekends are generally free. “It’s finding time to do the preparation that’s harder. I often find myself writing sermons on the train to London. I really immerse myself in preparing sermons. It gives me a much richer insight into one of the gospels or epistles.
“It’s part of the faith journey. My day job feeds my lay ministry in that there is a nice connection in how you approach telling a story. The gospels have A stories and B stories in them (main plots and subplots) and I can often see where ITV might put an ad break in.”
Varied career leads Barbara to LLM ministry
Barbara Prior was licensed as an LLM 15 years ago. Barbara had started leading services during an interregnum before exploring whether she was called to ministry.
“I became a Christian when I was young and then went to Bible College,” says Barbara, who served with her husband, Ian, at the Birmingham City Mission before moving to High Wycombe to work with the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
“I was leading services in an interregnum when I received a letter card from one of the congregation asking me if I’d thought about going into ministry and then another person said to me I ought to consider training for ministry.”
After praying carefully, Barbara spoke to a vicar before an interview with a vocations advisor. The process revealed her gifts were more pastoral than priestly. She was accepted for LLM training and hasn’t looked back.
“The process took two years. I didn’t want to rush into it as I felt that if it was of God then I didn’t want to be doing it out of my own ability,” says Barbara.
Despite a cancer diagnosis Barbara completed the training and was licensed with her fellow trainees. Since then Barbara has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities the role has given her. “I do a lot of funerals and it gives me the opportunity to go into the community and be with people when they are at their most vulnerable. That is always a privilege and I really enjoy leading and speaking at services.”
Now retired, Barbara and Ian have three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. After a varied career that has seen her work for the YMCA with young people who had become homeless, and for a social work department, organising placements, she loves her ministry as an LLM.
“I really enjoy seeing people grow in their faith. I help lead Alpha and I’ve started a home group which is going great guns.
“It’s great to be part of a bigger organisation. I’ve been involved in lots of denominations, but I’m always impressed with the Church of England’s resources and the flexibility there is for people to minister.”
Barbara says she thoroughly enjoys the diocese’s annual LLM conference. “Every year I can get new ideas and be able to network.”
Barbara is an LLM at St Anne’s & S. Peter’s, Micklefield and Wycombe Marsh.
LLM ministry gives Ros a sense of permission
Ros Steel from Christ Church Abingdon always knew she was called to ministry but sensed that ordination wasn’t right for her.
“I have had a sense of God’s call since my late teens and I remember exploring the possibility of ordination at several different stages of my life, but it never felt right. It felt as if I was struggling to be something I wasn’t,” says Ros, who became an English and music teacher.
When she moved to Abingdon she taught music at the Abingdon Music Centre before re-training as a counsellor during her interesting and varied career.
Fast forward to the present and Ros was already in a leadership role, coordinating pastoral care at Christ Church Abingdon when the vicar asked her if she had thought of training for LLM ministry.
“I was on the staff team and already spoke at meetings and preached occasionally. The LLM role seemed flexible enough for me to be truly me,” says Ros, who was licensed as an LLM in 2016.
“It felt as though I was being given a bishop’s licence to what I was already doing and that was empowering, it was a huge sense of permission.”
Since her licensing, Ros says she can feel a shift of emphasis. “I feel I am doing my work as a minister of the Gospel in the Church of England,” she says. “I trained as a counsellor and I’m doing lots of one-to-one work, but I also get to speak at meetings and quiet days, teaching and leading. There’s still a bit of a teacher in me really. I just enjoy the privilege of being involved with people who often are at difficult times in their lives and being able to speak Gospel truths into that.
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been to acknowledge that shift of emphasis. For a long time, my email signature was Ros Steel, coordinator of pastoral care. I’ve been licensed since 2016 but have only recently changed it to LLM and coordinator of pastoral care. I see the shift being that my pastoral care work now comes out of my LLM ministry.”
And what would Ros say to anyone interested in LLM ministry? “I would encourage them to explore it because I think it grows and for me it’s taken many years, but I think explore it with a church and go for it.”
Ros is married with two children and three grandchildren.