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Reader Training


This is a follow-up post after discussing whether or not readers are provided training and how appropriate or not that is. As well as comments at that post, you can read insights here, here, and here.

The ministry of proclaiming the Scriptures, the Word of God, in the Christian assembly is one of the most significant ministries, and appropriately involves ongoing training and formation. Traditionally this is a minor order, or a person is instituted to this ministry.

In training you may have some points which you can add in the comments. You may also disagree with some of the points made here; the value of them being made, then, is that these points provide a starting point for reflection.

A community has a translation standard and a community Bible or book of the readings (often the readings are organised into a bound book of the Revised Common Lectionary readings)*. If your community is seeking an agreed standard, my recommendation is NRSV. It is hopeless if a community does not have a standard; you can end up with the reader reading a different text to that which the preacher is using!

  • The reader needs to understand the text s/he is reading. If the reader does not understand the text, if the reader cannot express the meaning of the text in a sentence or two, then s/he has no real hope of conveying the meaning of the text by reading it aloud. If the text is complex a good commentary may help, praying with the text, being part of a Bible discussion group that works through the text, or, as part of the preparation, checking/studying the text in a dynamic-equivalent type of translation or a paraphrase may help. [The Message provides a significantly different way of presenting the text into English.]
  • Many find marking a practice text helps: keywords, where to vary pace or your volume, pauses, important words to emphasise, places to breathe in a long sentence. Check pronunciation of names, places, difficult words; note them.
  • Practice reading aloud. At home. And then at church before the service.
  • Ignore the microphone. Many people seem to give the impression that they think the microphone will turn quiet, mumbled, rushed, monotonous reading into great and powerful oratory. It does not. Read aloud as if the microphone isn’t there. Project. Although we obviously do not want exaggerated pomposity worthy of a Monty Python church skit, for most people, you cannot read too slowly; you cannot vary pitch, pace, and volume too much; you cannot be too emotionally expressive. Video yourself and see that what you think was over-the-top hyper-dramatisation was actually merely interesting, comprehensible reading.
  • Check height of lectern, light,…
  • Don’t be nervous. Swallow so your throat is lubricated. Breathe. Come up. Take your time – what feels long and slow for you feels normal for the gathered community. Bow. At the lectern, pause. Breathe. Swallow. Begin as prepared. At the end of the reading pause… then use the normal response that concludes the reading and wait for the congregation’s response to you before you begin to leave the lectern.
  • Being videoed from time to time is a wonderful way to enrich this ministry of yours.

*Some suggested Books of the Revised Common Lectionary readings (NRSV):

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27 thoughts on “Reader Training”

  1. Punctuation. Pay attention to the punctuation. It makes the difference between:
    1. Jesus said, “Take away the stone Martha”…
    2. Jesus said, “Take away the stone, Martha”…
    3. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man… etc.

    Also, the reader MUST breathe, and the punctuation tells you where.

      1. Why would you bow to an empty altar/communion table? When folks bow it was my understanding that it is to the reserved sacrament, which usually is not on the altar during what many would call the Liturgy of the Word.

        1. There is a strong tradition, Br David, of bowing to the empty altar/communion table independent of the reserved sacrament. Ministers bow as they arrive at the sanctuary, priests reverence the altar with a kiss, the empty altar/communion table is censed. The altar is understood by many as a symbol of Christ. Blessings.

  2. Since the word plays such an important part in services, both the scriptures read and the spoken message, it seems more resources could be allotted to the pulpit or lectern. In many ritualistic churches their are both and in others only one. In LDS churches the one pulpit is usually very simple in style but often quite sophisticated in technology, as either the pulpit itself or the microphone installed in it telescopes and can be raised and lowered remotely and matched to the height of the reader/speaker without their having to fiddle with it themselves.



  3. Another idea. During preparation of the reading in the days beforehand, consider trying to memorise the reading.

    The aim isn’t necessarily to deliver it from memory on the day; indeed, I’ve never done that myself. It’s still fine to have the open Bible to hand.

    The aims are:

    (a) that the reading itself is “within” you, so that you can concentrate on delivering the message to the people you see in front of you;

    (b) that you know the layout of the reading on the page, so you are unafraid to take your eyes off the page for a while, to engage with the people.

  4. We have a large lectern, with a beautiful very large NRSV Bible. It bothers me to see readers come up clutching the photocopied paper they practiced from, carefully placing it on the Bible, then reading from that copy. I think this diminishes the powerful symbol of proclaiming from the community’s sacred book.

  5. Harvey Howlett

    The use of the sort of common music notation to mark up a text with ˉ stressed; ˘ unstressed; pauses; ’ breaths; / the points to raise the pitch or \ lower it; and phrasing to link together over sentences; > diminuendo (getting quieter) and < crescendo (getting louder). I wouldn't use this every time, but I will if it is a complex reading (which includes most of the Pauline epistles).
    I also use it to get groups of people to work together on reading texts when I am teaching reading and voice skills
    You can use any sort of marks but most church communities have musicians who understand this sort of notation and how it is used in music and singing and are very happy to help teach it.

  6. It helps to get pronounciation assistance before hand with biblical personal and place names. It easy to sort out who hasn’t even really looked over the text before the service when they slaughter the Greek and Hebrew names.

  7. Good article, only I would put “louder and slower,” which you have under the fourth point, at the very top of the list. And in the middle. And maybe at the end of the list too.

  8. “Louder and slower” to be sure, but also “deeper,” as in speak “a bit louder, a bit slower, and a bit deeper than you would in ordinary speech. Let silence speak, before, during, and after the reading.

  9. In my tradition, the liturgy is not preset. When I craft the liturgy, I will sometimes have the translation read that I used in my preparation (often the NIV, which I prefer to the NRSV for certain things, especially poetry), even when it’s different from what the preacher is using. (I do check with the preacher to make sure it would be alright.) The preacher can always quote from a different translation in the sermon. In my process, and in the liturgies I craft, the scripture is just as central to the liturgy as it is to the sermon. So I say don’t be afraid to use a translation that differs from the sermon if it will serve the liturgy.

    1. Thanks, Travis.

      If this approach is used I think it is appropriate that the texts used for the readings are provided well ahead of time for the preacher. Especially with what you call “the NIV”. There is no such thing as the NIV. NIV is a collection/tradition of translations which change each edition without a change of title of the translation. So one person’s NIV may be quite different to another person’s NIV.


  10. Vivienne Jackson

    In training younger readers I found it best to use a printout of the reading with extra punctuation added to prompt the pauses needed for emphasis,ie double or triple fullstops or commas and extra line spaces highlighted to remind the reader of the length of the pause. Also if there were difficult names which were still problematic after practising I would type in a phonic substitution to help.
    I note that some do not like to see a piece of paper carried to the lectern so if only for appearances the document can be already on the lectern.
    And although it does not fit with your feelings about a community translation with very young readers I have used an alternative translation that ensures they do understand what they are reading and it sounds appropriate to be read by child.

    1. Thanks, Vivienne.

      On the subject of translations more appropriate to people with a younger reading age, I once held the same position as you now do and took a variety of translations to reading experts to help me choose translations more appropriate to those with a younger reading age. Their response surprised and fascinated me. The content of the Bible is of such difficulty that the contemporary translation chosen makes little to no difference to people trying to read it – contemporary translations are all essentially very difficult.


  11. And at the end of the reading, pause, look up, make the appropriate concluding statement, and leave the lectern calmly (even though you may feel like dashing back to the safety of your seat!)

  12. From very recent experience: make sure everyone’s rubrical expectations match. We have a bilingual parish, and the English service book had
    Priest: Peace be unto all.
    Reader: And to thy spirit.
    Deacon: Wisdom!
    Reader: The reading is from Genesis.
    while the Russian service book omitted “and to thy spirit”, leading to an awkward pause.

  13. Great advice, Bosco.
    On the issue of the microphone, it depends on the acoustics of the church and the kind of microphone/sound set up. In some churches it is absolutely essential that you do speak into the microphone, even if you have a have a naturally projecting voice. Otherwise you just won’t be heard beyond the first 3 rows.
    So my advice would be to become comfortable with using the microphone properly. In all sorts of speaking contexts, I see far too many people being afraid of mics – and this ends up with all sorts of sound problems (which is a whole other post topic).

    And one to add – that was suggested but never actually done – was inviting the local Jewish cantors to share their experience of reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the correct pronunciation of places and names. (This does depend a bit on where you live and whether is a liberal Jewish community nearby.)

    1. Thanks for the clarification, David. Yes – some microphones are sensitive in the way you need to speak directly into them.

      I love the Jewish cantors idea.


  14. Most lectern microphones aren’t so directional that a reader standing at the lectern would not be picked up. If you have someone running sound, trust them to make sure you’re audible rather than adjusting the mic. That said, I completely agree with the previous comment that one should read and project as one would without amplification. Again, it’s the job of the sound guy to control volume while the reader controls everything else.

    1. What I have seen is people who shy away from the microphone altogether. So they will speak well to one side of it or way behind it. And a lot of churches (and auditoriums) do have very directional microphones. So most people are just not comfortable with how close they need to be to the mic for it to work well. And also don’t have practice / skills to adjust it to their height.
      Most churches I have been in don’t have a sound person as such. But it does work well if the liturgical assistant does all the mic adjusting as each person comes up. Then it happens quite quickly and seamlessly.

  15. Our music director adjusts the sound as needed for each mic and user, since the only time he’s wearing his musician hat and there’s an individual mic in use is if one of the singers is using a personal mic, and we check those at rehearsal.

  16. Great Article! The churches I grew up in were not liturgical but we often had scripture read as well as a “responsive reading.” This would be tremendously helpful for so many. It seems ridiculous that we would be so fearful of reading…but reading aloud in a Bible study little alone in front of a congregation makes many people nervous. They don’t feel prepared and are embarrassed to ask for guidance.

  17. All readers, in my opinion, need some training in the art of public speaking. This is why actors with sensitivity to the spiritual content of a reading are usually good communicators as Readers.

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