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The Role of Laity in the Church

We learn in Sunday school and confirmation classes that the ministers of the Church are the laity (lay persons in the Book of Common Prayer), bishops, priests and deacons. In recent years, people had come to look at the ordained (bishops, priests and deacons) as more important to the life of the Church than the laity.

In the early Church, both groups, the laity and ordained, made growth happen. The Church began to grow and evolve as more people joined and the Gospel was spread around the world. This growth led the Church became more rigid in its rules and hierarchy. The ordained were better educated and culture began to put the bishops, priests and deacons on a pedestal. Many began to assume with priest and deacons being the most visible on Sundays (bishops once year) that they were responsible for maintaining the relationship the Church had with God.

In today’s Church, people seem ready to leave most activities to those ordained. We have all heard “ask the priest” or “let the deacon do it” (whatever ‘it’ maybe). In today’s complex world, people may belong to a particular church but go infrequently or not belong at all. Today, as in the early Church, the laity, bishops, priest and deacons are needed more than ever. Each performs unique functions that are important to the life of the Church.

Some say that just the ordained have been call to a life of religious service, I feel as an active lay person I have been called by God to participate in the life of the Church. There are many things that we, the laity, can do to make the Church more a part of the culture. Many times we are in a better position than the ordained.

For example:

  1. The laity is in a greater position to invite people to participate in religious activities. People are more likely to visit a new religious organization when invited by a friend or coworker.

  2. The laity can offer many of these skills. By offering these skills the Church becomes much stronger.

  3. The laity now plays a greater role in religious services, which enables them to be a larger part of the life of the Church and the Church a larger part of culture.

The early Church faced the difficulty of creating itself. The current Church is facing the difficulty of indifference. For the Church to be a viable part of culture it must involve the laity, bishops, priests and deacons working for the common good.

The above article is part of a series presented by the Commission on Ministry. Read the first article on discernment, Being a Deacon in Today's World, by Deacon Clelia Garrity.


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