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Training Readers

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There was a comment here recently that really caught me up short:

Can you imagine the cries of “clericalism!” that would ensue if we said you needed to be trained to be a reader?

It had never entered my mind not to provide training and help for the immensely significant ministry of reading. And never once, in my recollection, have I heard anyone suggesting this is clericalism.

In my experience people who are to read in a church service are only too pleased to be given an opportunity to hone their skills. There are clergy and laypeople with the gift (and training) for training, helping, and enhancing the ministry of reading.


As part of my formation as a priest I have had years of speech and reading training. I take and make opportunities to (re)view myself on video (and/or sound recording) as part of my ongoing attention to this dimension of my ministry.

The proclamation of God’s Word in the Christian assembly must be one of the most significant ministries that anyone can exercise. Traditionally the reader has been a “minor order”. And for one and a half centuries there has been an office of “reader” amongst Anglicans – this ministry being licensed by the bishop.

Here’s what I wrote in Celebrating Eucharist

Readers exercise a very important ministry. Training and continuing support needs to be provided for them. Clergy need to be careful not to deprive the laity of their right to the ministry of reading. If the readers robe or are seated in the sanctuary this may give the impression of clericalisation. Lay persons proclaim the Word as part of their ministry as laity. For the first and second readings each reader most naturally comes up from the congregation dressed in ordinary clothes, reads, and returns to their place.

Historically, reading the Gospel is the prerogative of a deacon. It is still the case that at any ordination service it is required that the Gospel be read by a deacon (pages 892, 903, 915). At their ordination deacons receive “the Gospels of Christ” and are enjoined to “read from them and proclaim the good news” (page 897). Hence, when a deacon participates in the liturgy, he or she appropriately reads the Gospel.

In the absence of a deacon, the Gospel may be read by a concelebrating presbyter, if one is assisting, or by the presider.

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17 thoughts on “Training Readers”

  1. Well, this confused me as Readers are the previous name for the Licensed Lay Ministers of the CofE – and so it only made sense when seeing that people reading the Lessons should come up in their ordinary clothes. for the rest, I do agree with you that there should be some training for people reading the Lessons: whenever we have tried, people just don’t want to know. Interesting too that there is an absence of self-criticism, for instance one stalwart who is almost totally inaudible, I said gently ‘I often print out the Lesson so I can have a larger typeface’ she replied ‘oh no, I have my old Bible, which I use’ fine,but she holds the Bible at waist level , and reads ‘down’ into it.

  2. the single most important thing [given that most people reading the Lesson don’t have elocution etc] is to take it in turns to practice reading in church with someone standing at the very back, so that each person can realise how hard it is to hear someone who had not projected…ie spoken to that person at the back of the church.

  3. Robert Voorwinde

    I have been a reader now at Lakes Anglican for some twelve years. Never had any formal training, but drew upon my early association with the Australian Jaycees, and its encouragement of public speaking.
    Many readers, unfortunately speak in a very even and measured tone, making it a chore to listen to sometimes. A little bit of voice training would help, by introducing highs and lows emphasising certain aspects of the reading.
    But when push comes to shove, “any reading is a good reading”

    1. Robert W M Greaves

      A friend told me that in the past she had been told quite firmly to keep to a monotonous steady style of reading so that she wasn’t imposing her own interpretation on the text.

  4. Robert W M Greaves

    I would appreciate ideas on how to train people to be good readers. I know I’m good at reading the lessons and am often asked to train other people, but beyond rehearsing them I don’t really know what I can do to help them. Online resources so I can improve my own reading would also be nice.

    1. Hi Robert,

      My parish provided an afternoon training a few years ago — regrettably not repeated — which was very effective. One of the principles that was taught had to do with preparation. We were told that we needed to develop such familiarity with the text that we could state its contents in our own words. That familiarity then is the base line for thinking thru inflection, shifts in voice, pause points, etc.

      Some epistle texts are tricky, with rhetorical questions, and complex chains of thought. I, personally, have a very difficult time reading the text on the spur of the moment, if called upon in an emergency.

  5. Very timely! Monthly we have a young people’s Sunday, when all the readers (except the Gospel, of course) are kids. The quality of the reading has been a little “uneven” of late, and this very Sunday one of the parishioners will be starting a three session class teaching the kids how to do a better job.
    Interestingly, we’re getting strong support from the parents, several of whom have observed that reading out loud (or public speaking, for that matter) is not a skill taught in school anymore, and that this will benefit not only the parish in our worship but also the kids in life outside the church.
    Hard to beat that!

    1. To reply to my own post is a little pushy, but I did want to report that the training in reading last Sunday was incredibly successful for one 12 year old girl (who had previously spoken very fast, in a very high pitched voice, and who was very soft-spoken as well). She was the Lector, and it was like it was a different kid doing the reading. My sense is that this will carry over into her “other” life, if we encourage it, and that it can be life-changing for her in a very positive way. While the training was positive for all the kids, and all were easier to understand this Sunday, the improvement in the Lector was so marked that it deserved comment. Two more classes to go — I hope the dramatic improvement continues.

      1. I’m really pleased, Geoffrey, that you reported back – not pushy at all. Great to hear concrete results from training. And I agree about it carrying over. I think it great when young people share in ministry like this. I do wonder about having “a young people’s Sunday” – my preference would be that they be mixed in in a normal way. Thanks again. Blessings.

  6. Apart from speaking loud enough and not too quickly (which tends to happen when the reader is nervous), an important skill that can be taught is how to read ahead enough to look up at the congregation a good fraction of the time instead of “reading to the book”. A lot of other benefits flow on from this – good breathing patterns, seeing if people are hearing well, and the practising needed to acquieve this will probably mean good familiarity with the text and identification of phrases need to be said with appropriate emphasis to make sense to the listener (especially in the kind of sentences Paul wrote!).

    I make my own copy of the reading with extra whitespace, bold and italics to read from while practicing, and I think that helps a lot, but phrasing is much more important than emphasis for clarity – I’d rather have monotone than hear “of” emphasised, for instance, but there are many readings where some words really have to stand out.

  7. It’s to be expected that people have different preferences. But I always advise AGAINST looking up at the congregation when delivering a biblical lesson. Looking up from the text carries, to me, the implication that one is speaking one’s own words. That’s why preachers should look up — except when they are reading out a passage from the biblical text or the words of some other source.

    I would beg presiding celebrants at the Eucharist to follow a similar rule. The Eucharistic Prayer is NOT a time to be making eye-contact with the congregation, as if the text were the priest’s words addressed to them, rather than the whole assembly’s words addressed to the Father. (I know, Bosco, that you deprecate using the altar missal like a recipe book; but it’s at least a convenient place for the priest’s eyes to rest when uttering the orations and the anaphora.)

    As for printing out a practice script, I’m all for it as long as it’s for practice. Readers in the last three parishes I’ve belonged to have habitually spread out a wrinkled sheet of paper on the lectern from which to read. This neglects the opportunity to make use of the powerful primary visual sign of the written Word. In my current parish, even the Gospel is read from a computer printout, which is inserted, quite bizarrely in my view, into a ring binder that has been kitted out with an ornate brass cover. It seems the perfect triumph of style over substance.

    I’m with Mark, though, when it comes to emphasis placed on unimportant words. I used to know a holy priest with a fine “ars celebrandi”, but who was sadly hobbled by an inability, when declaiming the Gospel, to refrain from giving special emphasis to ever single preposition.

    1. To clarify, Jesse, I have the eucharistic prayer on a card flat on the altar in front of me. For the responses at the start of the prayer I make eye contact, clearly addressing them to the congregation, and they reply back to me. The rest of the prayer I hope is clearly a prayer that I am leading and the community is making its own. Some presiders stress that they are performing a drama at the altar during the eucharistic prayer, and want people to watch them perform this drama. As my actions are minimalist during the prayer, they are not really very dramatic, and I hope are understood as postures and actions of prayer. Blessings.

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