I wonder how many people remember the famous line from the film, the Blues Brothers, where Elwood Blues, played by Dan Aykroyd, tells everyone, “We’re on a mission from God!”
I have had a strange sense of needing to paraphrase this constantly, ever since I committed to becoming a Licensed Lay Minister (a role more widely known as a Lay Reader). None of my non-Christian friends have any idea what it means to be an ‘LLM’ – and indeed most Christian friends smile and nod, reluctant to admit that, whilst they believe they should know, they really don’t!
So in brief, what do local Anglican Lay Readers whom you may know, such as Cyril Harris and Keith Stott, actually do? One of my tutors described the role as joining in the ‘Missio Dei’, which basically means ‘God’s mission in the world’. Hence the Blues Brothers reference!
But what does this mean in practice? Well, the main purpose of a Lay Minister is to support our vicar or ‘incumbent’ (I put this in speech marks because it was an unfamiliar word for me – in fact, I kept hearing ‘encumbered’ when my tutors first used it!). This includes being active in pastoral care within the villages and, of course, leading some services (if you’re not sure how to distinguish us from ordained clergy, look out for the blue scarf!).
But it’s important to stress that we are not the only ones who provide this assistance – I look at the many people I have met in our group of churches, who do not have a title or training, but are still one hundred per cent committed to quietly serving their church and the people in it. I pray that I am able to show even a fraction of the love and commitment I see in them.
Nonetheless, I did feel a sense of awe on October 1st, when, with the six others who made a commitment to serve in the Ely Diocese, I was licensed in the majestic surroundings of Ely Cathedral, by the lovely, refreshingly informal, Bishop of Huntingdon, the Rt Rev Dagmar Winter.
It was what was known as a Triennial Relicensing Service, which meant that all 4 current Licensed Lay Ministers in the diocese were there too to renew their licenses. I’ve never seen so many blue scarves in one place before! It was both humbling and deeply moving to feel that I had become a member of this peaceful little army of workers for God.
I am so grateful to Ann Bol for her endless patience and support, and also to Shamus Williams, without whose encouragement I would never have embarked on this journey and probably never have completed it, with all the difficulties that Covid and my own full-time teaching role added to the rigorous training of the past three years.
Having now fully retired from teaching, and begun my ministry in the Shingay group, I am excited to set out on this new ‘mission from God.’ All I need now is a ‘Bluesmobile’!