Guidelines for Inviting Lay Presiders
Dignity/Boston is currently implementing a model of presidership where we have one or more ordained presiders serving the community on the rotation, along with frequent lay led liturgies (typically 1-2 per month). Lay presiders may serve with an ordained presider (i.e., on a feast day or special liturgy such as Anniversary) or with a second lay presider. Occasionally, a lay person may preside “solo” (such as for the annual Mary of Magdala liturgy, or in the case where an unscheduled lay led liturgy needs to occur). Dignity/Boston affirms that our ordained presiders are a cherished resource whose gifts continue to be valued. Others in our community also have gifts that should be honored. These are not mutually exclusive. Through the life of our community, Dignity/Boston has held listening nights, convened task forces, and developed practices for our liturgical model, including the calling forth of presiders (primarily ordained) to lead us in worship. This document seeks to articulate guidelines for the invitation of lay presiders, which should be generally in keeping with those for ordained presiders. In this, we make several assumptions which are true for the invitation of all presiders (lay or ordained):
- as described in Dignity USA’s Policy on Presiders and Leaders of Worship (2012), “Presiders are the most visible symbol of spiritual leadership in a community, and are in a position of spiritual, moral, and liturgical leadership.”
- the liturgy committee process should reflect discernment about what the community as a whole needs (as opposed to trying to meet the needs of specific or especially vocal individuals or constituencies).
- presiding is a ministry of servanthood (and thus is about service, not status).
- presiding is a privilege, with serious responsibilities, not a “right” to which someone is entitled.
- presiding includes the ministration of God’s Word and Sacrament, and all invited to participate in this role must keep this as their central focus.
- those who preside should be viewed as “role models” for right relations in the community, and should be and be seen as respectful, pastoral, compassionate, service-minded (and not just when presiding).
- prior experience or study in liturgy, theology, divinity, ministry, etc. is helpful but not required.
Keeping these in mind, the liturgy committee should:
- provide a coordinator for co-presided and lay led liturgies who writes the script, with input from the presiders, and acts as a resource, sounding-board, and provider of feedback to presiders before, during, and after the liturgy.
- ensure that those invited are committed to the liturgical values as expressed in the “Liturgy at Dignity/Boston” document.
- cast a wide net for prospective presiders to invite, striving for diversity and the representation of both newer and more established voices within the community.
- offer periodic workshops, discussions, and/or resources about liturgy and homiletics in order to provide support to prospective presiders.
- pair new presiders with more experienced ones.
- in considering prospective presiders, balance the personal sense of call expressed by individuals with the needs of the community for liturgy that is ably led.
Prospective Lay Presiders at Dignity/Boston should:
- have a significant connection to the life of the community. This may be reflected in regular attendance at liturgies, regular participation in a D/B group outside of liturgy, and/or serving in a leadership role in a D/B group, ministry, or sponsored activity. Ideally, we’d like to see all who serve as presiders attending liturgy regularly, but presently this is not the case for all of our ordained presiders so lay presiders should not be held to a different standard.
- demonstrate poise, skill, and confidence in other liturgical role(s), such as lector, cantor, Eucharistic Minister prior to being invited to preside. Competence as a lector should be a pre-requisite, since presiding involves over one hour of reading (along with simultaneous liturgical multi-tasking), compared to some five minutes of reading as a lector.
- be able to work collaboratively with their co-presider and coordinator.
- refrain from using the role to advance a personal agenda.
- commit to doing the work of presiding: communicate with their co-presider and coordinator, participate in walk-through’s/rehearsals, practice with the script, follow guidelines for preaching if giving a homily, etc.
- consider participating in available workshops, discussions, trainings regarding liturgy (though this is neither necessary nor sufficient to become a presider, based on other mitigating factors).
- remember that ultimately, being a presider is not about the individual in that role. It is about facilitating the experience of the community in worship/liturgy, which should take precedence over one’s own desire to perform, or feelings of self-consciousness or achievement in the role.
- be aware that, pursuant to Dignity USA’s Policy on Presiders and Leaders of Worship, they may be subject to inquiry and/or background check to ensure that no person who has previously breached the public trust as a child sex abuser (or who shows other serious criminal or ethical impediments) shall serve as a presider leader at Dignity/Boston.