Who is a Lay Reader?

Who is a Lay Reader?
Who is a Lay Reader?

In the Anglican Church, a Lay reader or layperson is licensed to preach and conduct some religious services, but not licensed to celebrate the Eucharist.


Who is a Lay Reader?

A licensed lay minister (LLM) or lay reader (in some jurisdictions simply reader) is a person authorized by a bishop in the Anglican Communion to lead certain services of worship (or parts of the service), preach, and carry out pastoral and teaching functions. They are formally trained and admitted to office, but they remain part of the house of laity, not of the clergy.


The ancient office of a Reader

From the third century, the office of the reader (or lector) became recognized as one of the minor orders of the clerical state. Candidates for ordained ministry (as deacons and priests) were first admitted to the sequence of minor orders, including that of lector or reader. The minor orders have been largely absent from the Anglican Church since the Reformation (with some localized exceptions) and in the Roman Catholic Church, they have also been suppressed. However, the “ministry of the reader” (in the Roman Catholic Church) and the office of the reader or lay reader (in the Anglican Church) represent a continuation of the reader tradition.

Modern revival

The office of Reader has existed in its present form since 1866. Reader ministry was originally restricted to men only. The first female readers were licensed during the First World War due to the shortage of men. The first group of women admitted was called “bishop’s messengers” and they existed in 22 dioceses in England and one diocese in Canada. After the war, there was a gap until 1969 when more female readers were appointed.

There are now many thousands of readers in the Anglican church, including around ten thousand in the Church of England,[and around 300 in the Church of Ireland. They are equally split between women and men.

Relationship to Holy Orders

In the Roman Catholic Church, candidates for ordination as a deacon must first have been admitted to the ministry of the reader (Canon 1035). Whilst Anglican canon law has no such requirement, the Canons of some provinces of the Anglican Communion allow for ordination candidates to be admitted as readers as part of their preparation for ordination as a deacon; this practice is common, for example, in the Anglican Church of Ireland where ordination candidates so admitted are known as Student Readers; the Student Reader’s license permits them to serve in any diocese rather than being bound (as in the case of diocesan readers) solely to the diocese of their licensing bishop.


Following a Church of England, working party report to the General Synod in 2009 most English dioceses have adopted the title Licensed Lay Minister.

Where the terms “reader” and “lay reader” are still in common use, they are largely interchangeable. The original term in the Church of England was simply “reader”, but “lay reader” is an early and common colloquialism, which has come to have official force in some parts of the Anglican Communion.

In the Church of England, the governing Canon E5 still references the office by the single word “Reader”.In the Scottish Episcopal Church, the governing Canon 20 always refers to the office by the two-word term “Lay Reader”.In the Church of Ireland the generic term used is “Reader”, but usually qualified as “Diocesan Reader” or, in the case of those admitted as part of their preparation for ordination, “Student Reader” (see above).


Role and duties

Anglican lay ministers are licensed by the bishop to a particular parish or the diocese at large. The vast majority of lay ministers are volunteers, although a small number are stipendiary ministers (paid to work full time), and the Canons of the Church of England make provision for the terms of employment and service of a stipendiary lay minister.

The role, whose prominence varies by region, bears many similarities to both the traditional liturgical role of Readers in the historic catholic rites of the church and the role of lay preacher found in many non-conformist denominations.

The role can involve:

Conducting the Daily Office (Mattins, Evensong, Compline) or other non-sacramental services

Reciting the Litany

Publishing banns of marriage

Preaching, teaching, and assisting in pastoral care

Distributing (though not presiding at) Holy Communion.

Participation in other services as requested by their incumbent

In some cases, the role may include conducting funerals

In many parishes a lay reader may carry out liturgical functions at the eucharist similar to the role of the liturgical deacon; in parishes of anglo-catholic tradition, a lay reader may vest and act as a subdeacon at solemn mass.

Many of these duties can be performed by any reasonably competent layperson who has been properly instructed, but a lay reader is licensed to perform them as part of a wider leadership role, following extensive training. This training and licensing elevate the reader to a particular ministerial role and function recognized as being distinct from the parish-based lay leadership of local congregational volunteers.

Their theological training enables them to preach, teach, and lead worship and they are also able to assist in pastoral, evangelistic, and liturgical work.


Among the objectives of the lay readers association are:
»To foster unity among member churches and their workers.
»To promote spiritual growth between the church and members.
»To embark on Evangelism and Church Planting.
»To attend meetings and seminars regularly and punctually.
»To work hand in hand with church workers.
»To assist and help the church workers.
»To be punctual and regular at all service
»To embark on visitation with church workers.
»To be a leader, teacher, and reader.
»To do preparation work before the ordained minister takes over the church.


Training to become a reader is rigorous and follows a period of testing and preparation. In many dioceses, this involves some form of access training[clarification needed] that introduces the concept of theological reflection as well as the nature of ministry. All potential readers attend a diocesan advisory panel to test their calling and assess their suitability for the role. The recommendations from this are fed to the parochial church council (PCC) in the candidate’s parish, which must confirm that it will support the candidate during training and will agree to the candidate going forward for licensing. Training takes place over one to three years (depending on prior theological training) at a local theological college and is often shared with ordinands and those preparing for other types of ministry. Reader training in the Church of England is overseen by the University of Durham and most candidates study for a CertEd[clarification needed] or diploma in theology. All readers will have a working agreement in place which is agreed with their incumbent. This outlines their duties and aims to promote a balance between their work and family commitments. Candidates may undergo placement in a parish other than their home parish to gain broader experience.

Reader training usually incorporates a selection of the following and this can vary across training colleges

Old Testament

New Testament

Christian theology

Liturgy and worship

Pastoral care

Study of local context




The nature of Christian salvation

Church history

Leadership skills and self-awareness (usually a Myers Briggs workshop)

Ministry to the dying and bereaved

Preaching skills

On top of this, there are practical skills that are learned within the home parish and Archdeaconry such as leading worship, conducting services and preaching etc. At the nomination and or appointment for training, the Parochial Church Committee (P.C.C.) has to agree to the candidate going forward for training and licensing. The candidate is licensed as well as admitted to the Order of Readers at a service in their local cathedral. The following day their license is read in their home church and the new reader preaches at that service.

Finally, these are Questions we lay readers need to ask?

(1) The Lay-Reader in the quote, is it different from the one we are meant to be?

(2) Did we undergo such training as described in this article in our various dioceses?

(3) If yes to the above questions, why are many lay readers not appropriately recognized by the same office that brought them this far?

(4) why the quarrels and ran out between the clergy and Laity?



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3 thoughts on “Who is a Lay Reader?”

  1. This is an in-depth and interesting study. The fact that women were brought in only due to a shortage of men surprised me but it makes sense when I think about it. Still, it is common to see woman in such positions these days. 

    Also, I never considered the extensive duties of a lay reader. with the title being reader I automatically assumed they simple read from the Holy Bible or other authorised papers. but it is s much more than that. Thank you for an insight into a world that is clearly bigger and way more organised than I thought.

    • thanks for stopping by Kelly. the truth is that the functions of a lay reader vary from one church denomination to another and their duty is more elaborate than we can say.

      I love the fact that women were also commissioned as lay readers because our dispensation demands that all be engaged with kingdom works.

  2. I didn’t know that they are paid  lay leaders, I thought they all just volunteer to do it for free. These people are doing a lot of work,no wonder why it takes 3 years to complete the training, because there is a lot to learn about before you can become a lay leader. This is so interesting


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