'Look for the abundance of what God has given. Ask, "What gifts have we got?", "How might that guide us to what we should do?"' So began Bishop Chris Goldsmith, Director of Ministry, at the first-ever Lay Ministries Network gathering at Church House, Westminster, last week.
He began by outlining the thinking behind ABCD: Asset-Based Community Development. So often we start by thinking how thin our resources are, he said, when in fact the opposite may be true.
I wonder whether, with an ageing population and more people over the age of 60 than under 18 in the UK for the first time ever, we might do well to think of the potential opportunities for spiritual growth of a larger-than-ever cohort of older people in the age range of 60 and above, time-rich in retirement. When it's not uncommon for a Church of England diocese to impose an age limit of 67 on those seeking to train as Licensed Lay Ministers (LLMs, or Readers), is it time to revisit such an age barrier to lay ministry in the Third Age?
Bishop Chris spoke of an 'ecology' of different lay ministries. He was himself a Reader for 16 years before going forward for ordination.
Many Anna Chaplains for Older People are also LLMs or Readers. I have written about this in a past issue of The Reader magazine. Its editor, Richenda Milton-Daws (licensed as a Reader in Bristol Diocese in 2011), was among about 50 of us who met to find out more about the network and meet Bishop Chris, formerly Bishop of St Germans in Cornwall's Truro Diocese.
There was a time for 'speed networking' – rapid conversation in serried ranks, 'line-dancing'-style – as we discovered who had come from where in the country for this London meeting.
I was delighted to meet up with colleagues from Rochester Diocese, where we have the second highest proportion of Anna Chaplains anywhere in the country (after the north-east).
Other topics covered included 'Exploring codes of conduct for lay ministers' and 'Collaborative ministry'. The Revd Hilary Ison also spoke of the pressures many ministers are under. 'So many clergy are close to the edge,' she said. Some, she explained, are very reluctant to move from head to heart thinking, and being fully present in their bodies, for fear of being 'overwhelmed', she added. She recommended a book about how many hold trauma in the body, resulting in physiological changes: The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma by Bessel van der Kolk (Penguin Books, 2014).
Tasked with looking at wider strategy around expanding lay ministry is Dr Paula Gooder, a theologian (and Reader) who is canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, and the Bishop of Leicester, The Right Revd Martyn Snow, the lead bishop for lay ministry in the Church of England.