November 13th, 2016
Jenny Humphreys, Reader from Bath & Wells Diocese.
I grew up in a small mill town in West Yorkshire where I attended the local church occasionally and was a regular member, with my two sisters, of the afternoon Sunday School held in a local hall. This was probably more to give our parents a quiet couple of hours than through any great religious zeal! However we went along happily enough, learned our Bible stories, acquired several books for being regular attenders, enjoyed the Christmas parties, and looked forward to the bars of chocolate from Grandad when he collected us at the end of each session!
In my teenage years I was a Girl Guide and attended the local Methodist Church for Church Parades – after that I drifted away from regular church involvement until after I was married – and will always remember the sincere welcome from the local Vicar when we went to discuss dates, even though we had never met him before and were not intending to live in the parish afterwards. A few years later after we had settled in a small market town in Nottinghamshire we got involved with church for the first time as a family – christenings for our two daughters, pram services, young wives’ group, and my husband running the youth group! Most of this was due to the welcome and affirmation of the then Rector and his family.
We moved to Bath & Wells Diocese in 1980 and got involved in the church where I still worship. I was confirmed in 1982 and in the late 80s/early 90s was encouraged by another welcoming, affirming Vicar to join a Christian Foundations group, and then to follow this up with Reader training – which led to my licensing in 1995, further theological studies to Degree level, and indirectly to a Diocesan role as World Mission Adviser from 1998 – 2016.
This all sounds very comfortable so far, and I will be for every grateful to the three priests I have mentioned for their encouragement on my Christian journey. The problems have been whenever the need for renewing Reader licenses arises. This has been a soul-destroying process for various reasons through three changes of incumbent. In my experience Readers are not properly involved with the discernment and interview process for new incumbents, and often find themselves working with people of a very different temperament and outlook from that of the person who first encouraged them into their role. Then there is the reluctance of many new clergy to consult the laity about what happens in their parishes – particularly if the new incumbent is male and the lay experts are female!
Differences arising between Clergy and Readers are not always well addressed when the Diocesan and Archdeaconry Wardens of Readers are all clergy. They tend to side with their fellow clergy, and are often too busy to follow up correspondence or take any initiative to solve issues. Some dioceses have Wardens who are Readers, which seems a much more satisfactory situation.
I look forward to the day when Readers are as equally valued in any parish’s Ministry Leadership Team as the Clergy!