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‘What do lay preachers want?’ new facilitator asks

By Marie Sherry

The Methodist Lay Preachers Network is seeking feedback from members on what they want and need from their association.

The Network currently has about 165 members, the majority of them actively involved in leading workshop around New Zealand.

Lead facilitator Dorothy Willis has been working to open the channels of communication through the association and find out what its members want.

Dorothy Willis

Dorothy and husband Ernest are members of the Riverton Union Parish. They have both been lay preachers in Southland for 27 years, and have preached in a total of 35 different rural churches throughout the region.

"When the children were little we wanted to find something we could do together. It took us about five years to qualify as lay preachers doing one subject a year," she says.

"We’ve normally worked as a team as we’ve always believed our skills compensated. Ernest is better with words while I’ve been more practical. I’ve done the music and have experience with youth and children."

Dorothy has been the lead facilitator of the Lay Preachers’ Network since last year and is hoping to improve on the network’s database and email communication.

"In November each year we send out a form to all churches to fill in and acknowledge how many services their top preacher has taken each year. Last year the top lay preacher reported doing 80 things a year," Dorothy says.

"As we know, there are fewer presbyters out there, so lay preachers are doing a lot of work to keep church doors open. That, I believe, brings with it a need for us to continue to get skilled and be accountable. We’re gathering data to see what’s happening."

Dorothy says the Lay Preachers’ Network gives its members a number of benefits.

"The feeling I had when I took over as lead facilitator was with that with so many people on board, we need to be able to find out how best we can support them.

"I’ve been trying to open up the channels of communication. It’s been a learning year as I have tried to get feedback as to how we can best serve our lay preachers. In the next newsletter I’m going to ask everyone who is coming to Conference to come with ideas on what strategies we should have for next year. We also want to keep an eye on when people are due their long-service certificates."

The Lay Preachers’ Network will meet during Methodist Conference in November.

"That’s when I hope to encourage people to say what they think the network should be doing next. Then it becomes what they want and not what I think they want," Dorothy says.

"We don’t have our own website but I’m hoping that might be something that happens."

Another of Dorothy’s concerns is the access people with disabilities have in our churches.

When an operation on one of Dorothy’s knees went horribly wrong in 1990, she ended up with a rare and painful neurological condition now known as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). She experienced frequent falls due to loss of balance. Spinal injuries and then an above knee amputation placed her in a wheelchair.

She says people in wheel chairs are self conscious when they must sit in the aisles alongside pews. A row of chairs would help people like her as well as others who find it difficult to get in and out of pews.

Leading worship can also pose difficulties for people with disabilities, Dorothy says. Most sanctuary areas are elevated, and she has come up with a workable solution using a portable ramp to get up steps.

Individuals with disabilities may not be able to participate in some aspects of worship if it includes a lot of other people, activity or movement. It can become a safety issue for the person and others.

Sometimes people with good intentions spontaneously attempt to include her in worship activities but this can be stressful. She says it is best to ask before worship starts to make sure the person is comfortable with the activity.