The Lay Preaching Training Initiative enters next phase
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
- John 1:1, 14
In the prologue of John’s Gospel, the gospel writer makes a profound connection between the word and flesh. A word by itself can remain an abstract idea. Words like “love,” “forgiveness,” “justice” and “mercy” sound good in principle, but they take on a new life and meaning when they are embodied in the person and actions of a living, breathing human being who is faced with all of the challenges and complexities of our world.
Preaching is a moment in our worship when word and flesh come together. The preacher joins the word, which was proclaimed generations ago, with our lived experiences here and now. It involves more than an exposition of text. Preaching happens in a community, always reaching toward the questions “How does this word speak to us today?” and “How do we respond?”
NOT JUST FOR CLERGY
The act of proclaiming the gospel is not reserved for ordained clergy in the pulpit. Indeed, the Baptismal Covenant asks, “Will you proclaim by word and deed the good news of God in Christ?” The response of “I will with God’s help” is a commitment we all share, lay and ordained alike. Churches find wonderful and creative ways to include the witness of members of the church, such as youth Sundays when a young member of the church shares their faith. We also prepare and license lay members to serve as preachers. We currently have 15 licensed lay preachers in the Diocese of North Carolina.
Our lay preachers come from different backgrounds. Many came from other denominations before finding a home in The Episcopal Church. Some participated in an ordination exploration process, while others are called in different ways. Some received formal training from seminaries and colleges, while others were trained locally by their clergy. One of the joyful gifts that a lay preacher offers the life of the community is a visible, physical reminder of the call for all to proclaim the gospel. Jesse Griffin, a lay preacher at St. Andrew’s, Haw River, shared that “the Bible is for all people. The scriptures are to be read, interpreted and struggled with.” As a preacher, he says, it is exciting to look closely at the texts and draw on the scholarship of others. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
TRAINING FOR LAY PREACHERS
In April 2021, the Diocese of North Carolina was one of six dioceses—along with the Dioceses of East Tennessee, Central Gulf Coast, Minnesota, Nebraska and Lexington—awarded a grant from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation to pilot the Foundation’s Lay Preacher Training Initiative (LPTI). (“Let the Lay Voices Ring Out,” Disciple, Summer 2021) The goal of the LPTI is to develop a robust cadre of lay preachers drawn from within their local communities who can supplement ordained clergy in the pulpit. By training and supporting lay preachers in the Episcopal Church, the program aims to establish lay preaching and lay leadership as a fourth dimension of leadership in the Episcopal Church alongside bishops, priests and deacons.
We are excited to take part in this initiative designed specifically for lay preachers. The program intends to offer a scalable model of preparation that can be used and adapted for a wide variety of settings across the Episcopal Church. The racial, ethnic, economic and geographical diversity of our diocese offers great possibilities to share these resources.
Early indications are that the people of the Diocese are excited about this as well. When the application process began, we hoped to have enough applicants to fill the seven-space cohort. Almost 30 people applied.
The curriculum itself is still in development and, upon completing our review of all applications received, we will begin in January 2022 the journey of this two-year course with the first seven-person cohort. The course includes reading, online classes by seminary professors and leaders in the Iona Collaborative (part of the Seminary of the Southwest), and samples of sermons by top preachers in the Church from whom all will learn. The group will gather online and in person monthly, and they will practice and reflect together on the art of preaching.
The preachers who complete this training will be prepared to preach confidently, be licensed to serve in their local congregation and be available to share their gifts with other church communities. It is anticipated the lay preachers trained in the pilot program will serve congregations lacking full-time or bivocational clergy, provide second-language preaching where the need exists, and offer a different voice of the Good News from within church communities of any size, as well as provide schedule relief on the preaching roster in their own church as needed.
The Episcopal Preaching Foundation will continue to work closely with our trainers to implement the training in the Diocese and adapt it for our needs. They have plans to gather all of the trainers and participants in this first round in person some time in 2022 or 2023 when it is safe to do so. This is paid for by the grant.
As a participant of this program, the Diocese will have free access to all of the program materials, including a library of resources for preachers. This is part of the intention of the grant from Trinity Wall Street to enhance preaching in our churches. Once we become familiar with the materials, will be able to branch out and share them more widely with lay and ordained preachers in the Diocese. We hope these resources will strengthen the gifts and skills of people already licensed and serving as lay preachers. They could also be used for training deacons.
After the first year, we will plan to gather a new cohort of preachers to be trained. The LPTI is working on adapting materials into the Spanish language and context. We do not know yet when these will be available, but, when they are, we hope to offer a training for Spanish-speaking lay preachers.
The Diocese of North Carolina has long been supportive of lay leadership and ministry. We are excited to take part in this new opportunity to help those called to lay preaching achieve their goal and take us yet another step closer to Becoming Beloved Community.
ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT PREACHING?
Have you ever thought about preaching but aren’t quite ready? The pilot program underway is only the first of these offerings in the years to come. If you want to explore the possibility of becoming a lay preacher, there are many ways to start your journey:
- Be comfortable with your own faith. As one of the cornerstones of preaching is sharing the Good News, it’s important to be comfortable talking about your own faith. Embark on conversations with others; if you need conversation starters, try a “Go Speak” gathering or simply use the cards as prompts.
- Embark on a study of scripture. As a preacher, you will be helping others learn the meaning behind scriptures. Deepen your own studies, either formally or informally. Great ways to start include Bible studies, Education for Ministry (EfM), Church Next, CALL courses, The Iona Collaborative, online courses, Academia de Liderazgo or similar programs.
- Take a leadership role. As your comfort and studies progress, take a leadership role in your own church’s formation offerings. Lead a Bible study or teach a Sunday school or adult formation class; all are great ways to take next steps on your journey to becoming a lay preacher.
The Rev. Canon Earnest Graham is a regional canon in the Diocese of North Carolina.