In a little more than a week, Christians throughout the western world will begin our annual recounting of the central narratives of our faith. From the reading of the entire passion narrative on Palm/Passion Sunday, through the retelling of the events of the Upper Room and Golgotha on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and culminating in the many readings of the Paschal Vigil, it is never clearer that holy story lies at the heart of the Christian faith.
But how are our stories told? More to the point, how well are our stories told? What attention do we bring to the complex and difficult activity of the public oral interpretation of the Word?
In 2007, Clayton J. Schmit invited readers of Liturgy to consider the many skills which must be mastered in order to effectively exercise the ministry of reading the Word in worship. Considering in practical detail such issues as prior study, active embodiment and precise articulation, he concluded by reminding worship planners that
Reading the Bible aloud is one of the most common elements of Christian worship. There are those who do it with grace and meaning, and those who do it inarticulately. For some reason, we seem to think that nay person who can read at all has the skill or experience to do adequate oral interpretation of literature. Remember, however, that we conclude our scripture readings with the phrase, “The word of the Lord.” If we believe this statement to be true of the text we have read, then care needs to be given as to its adequate preparation. We also need to call on people with gifts for interpretation and embodiment to do this work and to teach the art to others. We can be on the lookout in our parishes and congregations for people who are particularly gifted in such things. They might include those with dramatic experience or people who work in radio and television communication. Often, the best readers are teachers of young children who regularly read to their audiences with animation and energy. They can teach the rest of us to do this as well.
What efforts does your congregation make to recruit and train those who exercise the ministry of Reader of the Word?
Clayton J. Schmit (2007): The Living Word: Restoring Life to Scripture Reading in Worship: Liturgy 42:4, 30.
Clayton J. Schmit is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, holds the Arthur DeKruyter/Christ Church Oak Brook Chair of Preaching and serves as academic director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, most recently Performance in Preaching: Bringing the Sermon to Life and Sent and Gathered: A Worship Manual for the Missional Church.