On 18th September, following three intense years of study and training, I had the privilege of being admitted and licensed by our Bishop in Salisbury Cathedral as an Anglican Licensed Lay Minister, and I have now been granted the role’s rather fetching blue preaching scarf to add to my official robes! In the olden days we were known as Lay Readers, reflecting our primary function to teach and preach, and some Dioceses retain that title. But more are adopting the newer title of Licensed Lay Minister (or LLM) because it encompasses the wider reach of that ministry today. I have put the link to the Central Readers Council below if anyone wants to explore this further, but I thought I would share with you my personal view on how versatile LLM ministry can be, particularly now, as we continue to emerge from a pandemic.

What is the role of the LLM in the 21st century?  I would suggest the broad answer could be absolutely anything. This was why I felt called to lay ministry from the outset; recognising the flexibility, within the official role description, to be creative, imaginative, and to respond to the needs that are revealed to me as I follow this calling. Emanating from my journey as an Oblate of Douai Abbey, my distinct calling has been to contemplative ministry for the last few years and I strongly suspect that, with those Benedictine roots, this will continue to be a prime focus. The initiatives I have already put into practice in my home parishes have proved this to be a real need that I feel will only become greater in our demanding modern world. I now lead quiet days and retreats, as well as contemplative worship in church. But that is my sense of calling and others will have their own vocational vision, each according to their own gifts. Some are based solely within the ministry of the church in the traditional tasks of preaching and teaching. Others work in the wider communities in what is known as pioneer ministry. Some focus on end of life ministry, or take on roles in youth work. Others work as chaplains in a wide variety of places – one person I know is a voluntary chaplain for Specsavers!

But, whatever our ministry may be in the current time, we can also expect it to evolve, expanding our area of focus or even taking us in a new and unexpected direction, opening up possibilities we may not have originally considered. Through prayer and paying attention to God’s call, we can follow that ministry anywhere we feel it is needed. LLMs are known as the bridge between pulpit and pew – licensed to minister but sill a member of the laity – and so we are particularly well placed to serve our communities outside of the church building throughout the week, as well as in church on Sundays.

But, whatever it is that we are meant to do, we can be sure that God will find a way of nudging us in that direction! My search to explore the Benedictine tradition of spirituality came about in such a way. Searching online in 2013 for “Benedictine retreats” enabled me to discover Douai Abbey at the very top of the screen. (it has never appeared there since!) As soon as I walked into the monastery I felt a sense of coming home, and the guidance and support kindly offered by members of the Douai community were instrumental in unearthing my inner contemplative nature. Becoming an Oblate has been a blessing and a joy, and I continue to nurture my Benedictine spirituality through the ministry I am now able to offer to those in my home parishes, allowing many new conversations to begin. “So arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak have nothing to run from”, writes St Benedict – words that have always spoken deeply to me and which I now try to follow amongst those to whom I minister.

Catherine of Siena reputedly wrote “Be whom God means you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Licensed Lay Ministry is arguably one of the most exciting and fulfilling, offering the potential to take Christ’s message far beyond the church walls and in a variety of imaginative ways. As one of the kind cards I received at my licensing said, “now the adventure begins!”

Barbara Priest

Oblate of Douai Abbey


Link to the Central Readers Council:  https://transformingministry.co.uk

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