Since the 1990s, I’ve been a United Methodist lay speaker – which, when I first got into the program, simply meant someone who was not an ordained minister but who was approved by the church to preach. A layspeaker might fill in for a sick or visiting pastor, and some churches have “laity Sunday” observances in which the entire worship service is presented by members of the church.
When I got involved, you would take a basic lay speaking class, about 8-10 hours of instruction – after which you were approved to speak at your own home church. Then, after you’d taken any of the available advanced classes, you became a “certified lay speaker,” approved to speak in any United Methodist Church. You had to take some sort of advanced course at least every three years in order to remain certified. Many people would take courses more frequently, just because they’re usually enjoyable, and you get to know and reconnect with other lay speakers.
A few years ago, the United Methodist church re-worked the program a bit – it’s now known as “lay servant ministries” instead of “lay speaking ministries,” and more different types of people are encouraged to get involved, even those with no desire to stand behind a pulpit. Within that program, there is still such a thing as a “certified lay speaker,” which now has more stringent requirements than before. Instead of becoming certified after one random course, you have to take at least one course each in five different topic areas. I was grandfathered in under the old requirements – not automatically, but based on an endorsement from the director of lay servant ministries for the Murfreesboro District, Ruthan Patient. But of course, I still need (and want!) to continue to take courses.
In recent years, the format for the course was either Friday-night-and-Saturday or Saturday-and-Sunday-afternoon. At any given event, the basic class will be offered for those who need it, while there will be one or more advanced classes going on at the same time.
After a couple of recent training events failed to get enough registrations to “make,” they decided to monkey with the format and whole the whole thing on Saturday.
That’s where I was today – at Blackman UMC in Murfreesboro.
The new format proved popular with students – we had forty some-odd people today – but it also made for a long day. We gathered at 8:15, started at 8:30, and were supposed to dismiss at 6. But the closing worship ran long, and so we didn’t get away until 6:30 p.m.
I’ve spent too many words setting this all up. What I really wanted to say was that today was a good one. I was in a class on United Methodist heritage and how it relates to our beliefs, taught by the Rev. Karen Barrineau. I’d thoroughly enjoyed reading the text, Living Our Beliefs by Bishop Kenneth Carder, and Rev. Barrineau did a terrific job with the class. I learned a lot about Methodist history – although now I want to go and read full autobiographies of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. (And I definitely want a John Wesley bobblehead.)
One of my classmates was Wayne Bradshaw, with whom I’ve served on a committee and who I’ve been with at previous training events. Wayne goes to Morton Memorial UMC. I saw several others at the event; Ruthan, of course, was running the whole she-bang.
Others I knew at the event included Tom and Nita Wright from Smyrna and Jim Overcast from Shelbyville. Later in the day, District Superintendent LeNoir Culbertson and Rev. De Hennessy dropped by; Rev. Culbertson officiated at the communion during our closing worship service.