Writing within the context of southern Africa where he exercises his diaconal ministry, the author raises questions and makes proposals concerning forms of Orthodox lay ministry that may have relevance for other areas of the world.  


Considerable publicity has been given to the revival of the ministry of deaconesses in the Patriarchate of Alexandria, but there are other ministries that are in just as much need of revival. If the Church is to grow and expand, it needs to be able to expand its leadership. In Africa we have seen many people baptised over the last 20 years, but very few have remained in the Church. If we are to retain new members we need to expand the pastoral ministry of the Church.

This paper offers some observations on specific pastoral needs, and proposals for how we can meet those needs by recognising lay ministries and training lay ministers.

2      Ordained and Lay Ministry

There are the ordained ministers of the Church: bishops, priests and deacons. Unfortunately, in many parts of southern Africa there are not enough men suitable for ordination, or the facilities to train them. At the very least, priests and deacons need to be able to serve the Divine Liturgy, and this requires skill in reading the texts in the Church’s service books, and in finding which texts to read. Many potential leaders do not have this skill, but can nevertheless be trained to lead in other ways.

There is a sense in which chrismation is the ordination of all Christians for ministry. While not all are called to be deacons, priests, or bishops, there are varieties of ministries among the laity.

afrobaptismIn mission congregations where there are no priests we need to look for leaders who, though they may not be qualified for ordination, can still be trained for simpler ministry tasks to build up the Church. (By “mission congregations” I mean those where most of the people attending services are new Orthodox or non-Orthodox, that is, not “cradle Orthodox.”) After suitable training, such leaders could receive a blessing from the bishop for a particular ministry.

Here are some of the ministries I think are needed at least in southern Africa, where I live and serve:

  • Readers
  • Lay pastors
  • Funeral leaders
  • Evangelists
  • Catechists/Teachers

3      Lay Ministries

Here or some of the suggested lay ministries, with suggestions on what they could do and how they could be trained.

3.1    Readers

The readers could be trained to lead the community in worship in the absence of a deacon or priest, and also to assist the priest when he is present. There are some tonsured readers, but others could be trained and blessed for this ministry.

3.1.1  Reader Services

In some mission congregations we have used the Hours and a form of Reader Service (Typica, Obednitsa): the latter is based on that used in monasteries on days when the Divine Liturgy is not served, and has been used by mission congregations in various parts of the world. It is basically the text of the Divine Liturgy with the priests’ and deacons’ parts removed. It also has the advantage of teaching congregations the structure of the Divine Liturgy, and familiarising people with Orthodox prayers, such as the Trisagion Prayers, so they can use the Hours for prayers at home.

Sometimes there may be two or more readers. For example, a younger person who can read fluently will read the longer parts of the services, while an older person who does not read so well can read shorter parts like “Through the prayers of the holy fathers….”

3.1.2   Training for Readers

People can be trained to lead the Reader Services by having an experienced person come to lead it with them in the congregation, and also by training meetings at which the structure and meaning of the services can be explained, along with their relation to other services. Some people learn by participating. At one mission service in Tembisa the regular reader was absent, and a 12-year old girl from Mamelodi, who had never before read publicly, read much of the service with amazing competence just from hearing it read by others.

Some of the more experienced readers could be tonsured as readers, and some could possibly be prepared for ordination as deacons or priests if they showed themselves as competent in leading worship and were otherwise qualified. Such readers could also, where possible, spend time with a priest in a parish, assisting him with services, etc.

4      Lay Pastors

The chief pastor in the diocese is the bishop, and he shares part of the pastoral task with the parish priests. Lay pastors can assist the priest in the parish by visiting the sick and those who have fallen away from the Church. Where there is no permanent priest, the role of lay pastors is even more important. If we had more recognised lay pastors, perhaps some of the people who have been baptised but are no longer seen in church would not have fallen away. The pastors should know the people and their problems and, where necessary, report these problems to the priests or deacons.

4.1.1  Training for Lay Pastors

People who are suitable for pastoral ministry of this kind usually show themselves by already undertaking it. They “know the flock” and care for the sheep. Training could therefore consist of meetings with people engaged in pastoral ministry in other parishes, and discussing the problems they encounter and getting advice and the benefit of the experience of others. An experienced pastoral priest, or the bishop, could moderate such discussions where possible.

4.2    Funeral Leaders

In many places it is customary for vigil services to be held in the home of the deceased person before the funeral. A priest might have to travel long distances to attend all of them.

It would therefore be good to have some readers who are also trained to lead such vigil prayers.

4.2.1  Training

The training of funeral vigil leaders would be similar to that of other readers, but with the addition of theological training in the Orthodox understanding of death and mourning. As this is also part of the pastoral ministry, part of the training could be by means of discussions of problems—for example, many Orthodox Christians belong to families where the other members are not Orthodox, and other members of the family want their non-Orthodox clergy to lead the vigil and the funeral service itself.

4.2.2  Burial Society

We should also give serious consideration to the possibility of forming an Orthodox burial society, as most burial societies do not understand the needs of Orthodox burials.

4.3    Evangelists

Evangelists are those who proclaim the Gospel to others. If the Church is to grow and fulfil its divine mandate to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation, we need evangelists who will do this. All Christians are called to be witnesses to Christ, which is in itself a form of evangelism; but we also need people who are able to explain the Gospel and answer people’s questions about it.

4.3.1  Training

Some people show an aptitude for evangelism. They naturally speak to others about their faith. Training can help them to speak in a more coherent way, and equip them to answer questions that people may have.

Training should therefore be on the theological core of the Gospel, and also on techniques of speaking to people about this.

4.4    Catechists/Teachers

When people are evangelised and brought to faith in Christ, they need to be taught in preparation for baptism. I have been told that some people who have been baptised did not even know how to make the sign of the cross. After baptism there is still more for people to learn. Priests can teach a lot in sermons, but where there are no regular priests others need to take up this task.

5      Conclusion

There may be other ministries that have fallen into disuse that could usefully be revived, but these are the ones I see as most urgently needed in southern Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world. This article does not set out a fixed plan, but is rather identifies some ideas for discussion in the hope that others may refine these ideas, or come up with better ones.

Deacon Stephen Hayes (shown in the photos above) holds a DTh in Missiology from the University of South Africa, where at one time he taught in the Missiology Department. He serves in two mission parishes where there is no priest in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All AfricaHe blogs at Khanya. His December 2014 interview on Orthodoxy in South Africa before and after apartheid is posted at Pemptousia.




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