Preaching the gospel is a great delight and privilege. It is a key part of the Church's mission and ministry. It is also an important and responsible task requiring a depth of Christian experience, understanding, knowledge and insight under the surface. That is why the Canons of the Church of England (see Canon B18) require that a lay person should have the permission of the Bishop to preach, as well as the invitation of the local minister, and why the Bishop requires preachers to undergo theological training.
Of course, all Christians can and should be sharing faith by giving their testimony, describing their experience of coming to faith and their relationship with Jesus. This is an invaluable part of discipleship - but it is not the same as preaching the gospel in Church regularly as an authorised ordained or lay minister. When St Paul writes about the Church and its worship in 1 Corinthians 11: 14, he emphasises that the whole body of Christ is involved in worship, but within the body there are different gifts which need to be recognised and used for the building up of the whole body. These gifts need to be exercised 'decently and in good order' and with the proper authority. (1 Corinthians 14: 40). Though in the Acts of the Apostles, there appears to be a distinction between teaching and preaching; both dimensions have always been required to be properly authorised in the Church of England as can be seen from the Act of Uniformity and the Book of Common Prayer.
It is because we have such a high regard for this ministry and wish to honour our scriptural roots that those who preach in this Diocese must have permission from the Bishop and proper authorisation before they speak, not only for themselves, but also as a representative of the Church. They also need permission from the Incumbent of the parish, who is responsible for the leadership of the local Church's worship.
In order to allow lay people to preach publicly within a framework which acknowledges the need for good order and appropriate recognition, the Bishop wishes to encourage and support the ministry of preaching which he shares with others. Therefore, a course of training for Occasional Preachers has been developed which will enable a person to preach up to 5 times a year and only in their own parish. It is an authorised, but not licensed role. The permission is for 3 years and the Incumbent must take responsibility for supervision.
The training course comprises 9 evenings or 3 Saturdays and runs once or twice a year.
There are other occasions when it is right to invite visitors or other members of the congregation to preach or give an address who have not undertaken training, but this should be within the parameters which are set out below.
If a visiting preacher is licensed to preach in another Diocese, s/he may preach in this Diocese on an occasional basis in accordance with Canon C8.
A representative of an organisation supported by the parish, e.g. 'Save the Children' may be invited by the Incumbent to speak about their work on a single occasion; an author might come and speak about their latest book. Such occasions, and those also envisaged below, are covered by a general authorisation of the Bishop in accordance with Canon B18.
Preaching as part of the Discernment of Vocation
A member of the congregation who is exploring a vocation to authorised ministry may preach on no more than two occasions as part of the discernment process, although this needs to be under the careful supervision of the Incumbent, who must give support and feedback.
Particular Interest or Seasonal Talks
A member of the congregation may speak in public worship because of their particular experience or knowledge e.g. how their faith affects their work as a prison officer, or what it is like to be a Franciscan tertiary.
All Age Worship and Family Service Talks
Youth leaders / ministers / workers and Children and Family Workers are often expected to speak at services involving children and young people as part of their ministry. Such acts of worship may be at the heart of a local church's misson to its community and are, therefore, very important opportunities for communicating the gospel.
Where these people are licensed, this falls within the terms of their licence. Where they are not licensed, the Incumbent must give appropriate support and supervision, and if this is to be a regular ministry, then there is an expectation that they attend the Occasional Preachers' training. Similarly, Pastoral Assistants (who are neither trained nor licensed to preach) and other lay people involved in speaking at such worship regularly, should also do the training.
Fresh Expressions of Church
These are also significant mission opportunities, but need the same careful supervision, authorisation and training for those responsible for speaking and preaching within them. We know that flexibility is necessary in fresh expressions, but still need to ensure high levels of Christian integrity and quality.
Sometimes, licensed preachers who have been engaged in ministry for many years grow stale and welcome the opportunity to refresh their hearts and minds. This training will provide a helpful refresher, enabling preachers to get back to basics and recapture their vision or revise their skills.
Selecting Potential Occasional Preachers
An Occasional Preacher needs to be identified as having potential for preaching, sufficient Christian experience and be of good standing in the parish. They should have been a worshipping member of the congregation for at least 6 months. Where there is a good reason why they are unable to train for licensed ministry, then the Incumbent and PCC may sponsor them as an Occasional Preacher.
Permission is given through the Incumbent, rather than the person concerned, emphasising the trust placed in the Incumbent, to exercise the role of discerning, calling out and supervising those with gifts for this ministry. When there is a vacancy, then the Rural Dean is responsible, in consultation with the Churchwardens for the supervision of those who preach. Permission lapses on the institution of a new Incumbent.
After prayerful consideration, the individual concerned should complete Part A of the application form, the Incumbent and PCC Part B. The form can be obtained from Louise Redfern at Diocesan House, Quarry Street, Guildford GU1 3XG. Tel: 01483 790320. It can also be downloaded from the diocesan website.
A review should be held at the point of renewal i.e. after 3 years. At this time, consideration should be given as to whether the person has a vocation to a public licensed ministry which will involve further training.