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This page last updated 14 August 2017
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Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

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Letters from the week of 6 - 13 August, 2017

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We recieved many responses to last week's letter on the importance of the reader of the lessons in church. Here are some of your replies:

I agree—all readings in the liturgy are of critical importance, and therefore must be treated with reverence and skill. Training for lay readers is essential. When I began seminar in 1976, CDSP required a year's worth of speech coaching with Mrs. Harris. She had been in drama on Broadway—I don't remember if as an actress or director—but her voice training for us was wonderful. We spent weeks just learning how to breathe, and then how to speak with clarity and appropriate expression. No sing-song allowed, and she worked hard with me to moderate a slight lisp! I used to recite 'Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Harris' as I drove to and from classes—it did help, and in the years of active ministry following, I often had people say they could both hear me in the last pew and understand me.

The Rev. Susan Creighton, Anchorite
St. Paul's, Bellingham, Washington, USA
7 August 2017

This morning a woman read in just such a transparent way. It took my breath away—her diction, clarity, projection. I think it is partly because she was trained as a musician. It was particularly stunning as she has been pew bound recently and only just returned to walking with a cane. So up she totters and then— it became all about the reading—I was presiding and felt—yes—this is how all readers should do it.

Ann Fontaine
Grace Episcopal Church, Astoria, Oregon, USA
6 August 2017

At High School in England 60 years ago, a teacher suggested reading as if you were seeing the words for the first time. Of course it is advisable to make sure of tricky pronunciations ahead of time, but otherwise I still abide by this sound advice.

Liza Trent Savory
Quaker with cherished Anglican roots
Mount Tabor, New Jersey, USA
7 August 2017

You ask what constitutes good reading in church—Consonants, for one thing; enunciation; and the ability to project the voice but not shout. The ability to make the words come alive without overly acting them out. I remember reading Bishop Whalon's essay when it first came out and thinking of some of the really good lectors we have at the cathedral in Sacramento. Each year, that same Genesis story he mentioned is read at the Easter Vigil, by one of two of the best readers we have. We all settle down for a good story. It's done just right without too much drama. A bit of a musicality in the voice, but not sing-songy.

Michelle Jackson, ObJN
Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, USA
7 August 2017

An appropriate blessing for a vegetable garden can be found in the American Book of Occasional Services. (See pages 103-105). It's not in the BCP, but the BOS is a great resource and is 'official.' I like the Rogation Procession. Many people (especially younger people) have come to think that our fruits and veggies come from the grocers. It is good to be reminded—periodically—that our produce comes from our gardens and farms by the sweat of a person's brow (and from the generosity of the Creator of All Things and Giver of All Life).

Mark Friesland
Oborishte Street Anglican Fellowship, Sofia, BULGARIA
7 August 2017

In the early 1960's I heard a reading of the 38th chapter of the Book of Job by a young priest.It is a 'reading' I have never forgotten— it wasn't 'me, me, me'—but the reader drew all the congregation (I suspect) into the drama of 'Then the Lord answered Job'.

On a few occasions since, I have had this chapter before me to be read aloud, and that priest's understanding of it has guided how I have gone about the reading.

In a sense that's part of the secret to scripture reading—understanding what the printed word is about.
Unfortunately many readers don't prepare before arriving at the lectern and are frequently unfamiliar with the text. It's not so much they are 'bad' readers, rather they are not equipped for the responsibility of the moment.

Sadly, much the same can be said of some celebrants at Holy Communion other Divine Services.

Trevor G Ciowell
Chriat Church Illawarra (BCP) Parish of Longford, Perth, Tasmania, AUSTRALIA
7 August 2017

Googling 'reading the lesson in church' and "how to read the Bible in Church" provides plenty of guidance. There are also small books on the subject, e.g.  Michael Vasey, Reading the Bible at the Eucharist (Grove Books, 1986), William Sydnor, Your Voice, God’s Word : Reading the Bible in Church (Morehouse, 1988), Leslie Chadd, The Word of God for the People of God : A Guide to Reading in Church (Church Union 1999), Clifford Warne & Paul White, How to Read the Bible Aloud (AIO, 2000) or Harry Cotter’s Reading the Bible Aloud (Aquila, 1998),  Anna de Lange & Liz Simpson, How To Read The Bible in Church : A Training Course (Grove Books, 2003), and for pronunciation of words, The Lector’s Handbook (Catholic Truth Society, 1978).  
These resources will help anyone responsible for teaching better reading. I myself should like to see:

1. a revival of the Office of Reader (and not confusing this with the role of an authorised lay preacher as is the case in Sydney), but in the absence of that, except in extraordinary cases, having lessons read in church only by people who have joined in and completed training sessions that include testing in church with the provision of an informed response, and who have done at least some study beforehand of the passage(s) they are reading - and not only the correct pronunciation of unfamiliar words ; this indeed could the basis of an interesting liturgy-related Bible study group ;

2. NOT printing the lessons in the Sunday bulletin (though if there are individuals present who have difficulty in hearing, providing a sheet with the readings for those individuals at the entrance); this will encourage better reading and more careful listening, and emphasise the importance of reading the Holy Scriptures well so that members of the congregation can hear clearly and be helped to understand what is read.

3. Using the AV/KJV for traditional language services but RSV where the AV/KJV is obscure; using a dignified version for modern services - NRSV or ESB which are in the AV/KJV tradition, or another good version when it has distinctive merit.

John Bunyan
St John the Baptist's, Canberra; St Stephen's Uniting, Sydney
Campbelltown, NSW, AUSTRALIA
7 August 2017

I agree with much of your editorial about scripture reading in church. I am sure Miss de Haviland was amazing, there are times when actors and others do not understand that reading Scripture is not 'theatre' but a sacred reading. This is as equally unedifying as the poorly read lection.

Many years ago when a seminarian, all first years were required to read to the Senior Student before being allowed to read in public worship. This was quite a good policy; though I was a qualified English teacher, and had had Speech and Drama training, many of my con-frères (for such they were in those days) were rural men of humble origin, fine folk but with limited experience of public speaking. It was also a means of defeating the terrifying disease of nervousness, which besets so many who have to speak or read in public.

I could also muse about the gifts of the late noted Church Organist and Choirmaster, Fr Bruce Naylor [late organist of St George's Cathedral, Perth; and Vicar Choral of St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide] who was able to convince guys that they could sing the sacred liturgy—bit of an ask for a farmboy from Hay in rural New South Wales. He was able to do this with his belief that 'everyone can sing'.

As for ad-hoc blessings, I find this amusing. Our church is a very traditional Anglo-Catholic church. I have never had any problem extemporising blessings. In fact, each Sunday, Monty, the much-loved dog of M & P —a long term same-sex couple in our parish community—comes and stands (well probably reposes) in the circle around the Holy Altar Table where we break bread and drink wine. P is particularly frail and is supported by Monty. I am happy to say 'Monty, may the Lord Jesus bless you' particularly recognising how much much joy that lovely dog brings to his owners. I don't need to reach for the English Missal or the St Swithun's Prayer Book to do this. And if you stand still, I am more than happy to sprinkle Holy Water on you and yours. My experience is that formalist Anglo-Catholics get this, whilst Puritans want us to get our knickers in a twist and declare that being human is sinful. This is not the Anglo-Catholic way.

Stephan Clark
St Mary Magdalene's Church, Adelaide, South Australia
Adelaide, South Australia, AUSTRALIA
7 August 2017

Your essay about reading scripture lessons reminded me of the liturgical theology of Aidan Kavanaugh's classic The Elements of Rite. I was also reminded of the frequency with which readers ignore the microphone that is in front of them. I once saw a very short person read a lesson to an unhearing congregation with the microphone pointing upward about a foot over his head.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen White
St. John's, Williamstown
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
7 August 2017

I have been a lector in several parishes for more than twenty years. Here are a few lessons I have learned:

Your job is to be a clean glass through which what you are reading can shine.

Your job is not to be 'eloquent' in a way that detracts from what you are saying.

To do your job requires lots of preparation. For me this means practising the assigned passsge 10 times or so. This helps me internalize the rhythms of the writer. Just try reading anything by Paul absent this kind of preparation.

Done properly, being a lector helps people hear -- really hear - the Word.

Mark Siegel
All Saints, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
7 August 2017

At Christ Church Cathedral, Darwin we provide a handbook on how to do the tasks on the rosters, which, on reading, says:

As a reader you are the voice of the text and you help people to engage with its message. Before the service read the passage and be sure that you understand it: it’s a good idea to read the rest of the chapter which it is taken from to help you know what it’s all about. It’s a good idea also to check that the microphone is turned on.

If you are doing the first reading, go to the lectern in time to start reading as soon as people have sat down. If you are doing the second reading, be near the lectern ready to start when the first reader has finished. There shouldn’t be a long pause before or between the readings. Adjust the microphone for your height if necessary.

Even with the microphone you need to speak fairly loudly and quite slowly because the acoustics of the building are far from perfect. The meaning of the text should determine how you read: speaking the woes prophesied by Jeremiah, for example, needs a tone different from the one you would use to tell the story of the angel’s visit to Sarah. At the same time you should not overdramatize or 'do the voices': you are giving a reading not a performance and you should not do anything which will draw attention to yourself rather than the text. If you can make eye contact with some of the congregation without losing your place, that reaffirms that you are reading the text to them not just reading aloud.

After the reading, pause before proclaiming 'For the word of the Lor'. At this point you are no longer 'the voice of the text you are a member of the congregation leading the congregation’s response to the reading.

Vivienne Hayward
Christ Church Cathedral, Darwin, Northern Territory, AUSTRALIA
8 August 2017

One of the finest readers I have ever heard was a 12-year old girl, part of a small group of kids of musical parents who were spending a week's holiday by singing daily in a different church in the UK Midlands. This was in 1987, and her intelligent yet simple reading of the lessons at Evensong at Malvern Priory has been an inspiration for my work with children ever since.

Randy Mills
St Mark's, Port Hope, Onterio, CANADA
9 August 2017

When I help new readers, I make several points:

1. This isn't like extemporaneous speaking—all the words are in front of you. So don't panic.

2. Read it first. Make sure strange words don't surprise you; we have a pronunciation guide available. But if you're caught out —'Steve, our scheduled reader isn't here, would you read the Epistle?'—do the best you can, and sound confident.

3. Slow down and speak up. Even with a microphone. Slowing down helps enunciation, and makes it easier for people to follow.

4. Your first grade teacher was wrong. It's good to follow along with your finger while you're reading aloud, so you can find your place again after you glance up. I prefer to mark the beginning of each line with my left index finger; others follow along almost word for word.

Steve Ketcham
Trinity Episcopal Church
Milford, Massachusetts, USA
10 August 2017

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