The terminology relating to any local authorisation or recognition of lay ministry in
the Church of England needs careful attention to avoid confusion. Where
terminology has a formal meaning in Canon Law, it is helpful to restrict wider use.
In addition, several words are sometimes interpreted in a variety of ways in different
The term lay ministry has varied interpretations. In some literature, especially that
from North Americai, the term ‘ministry’ is used to describe any activity or service
undertaken by an individual as part of their Christian calling in the world. The
Church of England’s publication “All are Called”ii talks of ‘Monday Morning
Ministries’ and ‘Saturday night ministries”. Others use the term ‘discipleship’ to
describe the service Christians undertake in their daily lives.
Another interpretation of the word ‘ministry’ is that offered by John Collins, who
argues that ‘ministry is a charge put upon someone’. It is this representative
dimension that is highlighted by the use of the word ‘ministry’ in a report produced
by the Church of England Faith and Order Advisory Group in 2007.iii Useful insights
are highlighted by each interpretation: however these notes specifically address
issues relating to lay ministry undertaken on behalf of the church.
The term Admission is used in Canon Law in relation to specific formal lay
ministries. Churchwardens when admitted are officers of the Ordinary until “others
as their successors, be admitted in the like manner by the Ordinary” (Canon E1).
Readers and lay workers are ‘admitted’ and given a ‘certificate of admission’. The
Canons provide that “the admission shall not be repeated if the person admitted
thereby moves to another diocese” (E 4.6 / E 8.1).
Accredited Lay Worker has been a term used in the Church of England to refer
to people who have gone through a national selection process, followed by
admission and licensing (under Canon E7) as a lay worker or evangelist (Church
Army). This is no longer a category used in the Church of England’s national
selection processes, but several accredited lay workers are involved in ministry in
some dioceses. It is therefore inappropriate and confusing to talk of others in non-
canonical lay ministries as ‘accredited’. It is helpful to avoid the use of this word in
relation to lay ministries, even where a training course undertaken has gained people
Licensing under Canon E7 is official permission, granted by a bishop, to fulfil a
particular ministry. A licence can be given for a specific length of time, and it can be
revoked. Canon E7 applies to accredited lay workers and those with a nationally
recognised Inter Diocesan Certificate, though the term ‘lay worker’ has been more
widely interpreted in some dioceses. Bishops in these dioceses have licensed people
to undertake other specific ministries. Ecclesiastical legal processes are involved, and
this is not commonly done except in the case of ministries formally recognised under
canon law. Some dioceses are known to refer colloquially to their local lay ministry
authorisation process as ‘licensing’, while recognising that technically it is not – a
source of potential confusion!
If a license is granted for a non-canonical ministry it is important to recognise that
the licence does not confer any “admission”, but applies only to the specific task for
which the person is licensed. In such cases it is important that the responsibilities
and expectations of this task are detailed in an accompanying ministry / job
Licensed Lay Minister: This term has recently been adopted in some dioceses to
describe Readers. Some people feel this more accurately describes and
communicates the nature and particularity of the ministry undertaken, though
technically any such Licensed Lay Ministers are admitted under Canon as Readers.
The 2008 Review of Reader Ministryv raises the possibility of future developments in
patterns of licensed lay ministry, so that within an overall category of “Licensed Lay
Minister” there could be further expressions of lay ministry licensed. The sharper
distinction drawn between those operating under licence and those ministering
under local arrangements would be reflected by the fact that the training of licensed
ministry would be moderated nationally.
Commissioning is a term frequently used for the process of local recognition of
lay ministry. Legally, the word does not involve a technical devolution of authority,
but refers to a liturgical activity. However the etymology of the word implies
recognition of the sharing of some ministry, and points to the fact that the ministry
will be carried out with and on behalf of the church.
Some dioceses prefer to talk of those undertaking diocesan ministries as
recognised or authorised. These words do not carry official legal overtones,
though the FOAG report (2007) uses the term’ Authorized Ministries’ to refer to
“ministries that are recognised and regulated at the national level (by the Church of
England organized as a whole, in its Canons and other legislation)”. vi As the use of
the term ”authorized ministry” does not in itself make clear where the authorising
authority or recognition originates (e.g. parish, deanery or diocese), it is helpful to
ensure this is clarified if the term is used.
E.g. “The verb ‘to minister’ means to serve, to act as an agent, or to give help. The Christian, acting as an
agent of God, serves in and to the world”. William Diehl in ‘Ministry in Daily Life’, Alban Institute 1996:
“…for the great majority of Christian people they will be ministries within the structures of the secular world
– political, industrial, business, professional, social, educational.” In ‘All are Called – Towards a Theology
of the Laity” Board of Education 1985
John Collins’ use of the term ‘ministry’ is explored in Chapter 2 of ‘The Mission and Ministry of the
Whole Church’ FOAG report 2007, GSMisc 854
Final Report of the Working Group on the review of Reader Ministry – 2008, GS Misc 1689
“in addition to Readers, these might, over the course of time, be extended to include other areas of ministry
such as Evangelists, Pastoral Assistants and Youth Ministers”.
FOAG report – p 75