Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Word of the Lord

            Have you attended church somewhere and had to put up with some bombastic reader, emoting his or her way through the day’s Old Testament lesson? Or, on the other hand, have you ever strained to hear what a reader is saying up there in the pulpit, mumbling the words, or parceling them out sparingly as if they were some secret?
            If you have experienced anything like that, you haven’t been to St. Paul’s Cathedral to hear The Word of the Lord read to the people of God. We have without a doubt, the best lector corps in the world, and I say that without reservation because I’ve heard a lot of what other congregations have to put up with every Sunday. How very blessed we are to have developed our wonderful group of lectors.
            In some ways, they are the unsung heroes of The Word of God section of the Sunday Eucharist. What they do often goes by fairly fast as that part of the service speeds on toward its culminating event, the homily. Sunday after Sunday, service after service, our lectors rise to the pulpit, confident and prepared, to read holy scripture to the congregation. They sometimes get a word of praise afterwards during coffee in the courtyard, often not, and their efforts are taken for granted.           
            In a way, being taken for granted is exactly what St. Paul’s Cathedral lectors strive for.  They don’t stand out, they don’t dramatize, and they don’t grandstand once they are up there reading, and as the person who schedules them, I am proud of their devoted effort to expound scriptures in a way that does not feature the reader.
            We take our ministry seriously. We are there to read for everyone what scripture has to teach us, and our lectors don’t just pop up out of nowhere to do their job. They study what they are about to read beforehand, noting everything in the reading including commas, and they do their best to have the passage come across as clearly and thoughtfully as possible.
            Our lectors are a select group who have prayerfully thought about what gifts they have to give, following the precepts of St. Paul who said that everyone is called to service depending on their talents. Not everyone who gets the itch to read in church has the God-given talent and predisposition for doing so. Our lectors are keenly aware that when readers become actors, the Word of God is no longer coming across, and what is coming across is the reader. We deplore such self-aggrandizing displays, and instead  we realize that we are the vehicle of expression for God’s word, and not the expression itself.

            Thanks be to God, we don’t have actors reading in church at St. Paul’s. Our lectors are one of God’s manifold blessings, and if while milling around during coffee hour, you get a chance to tell a lector that you appreciated their reading that morning , please do. They’ll greatly value your kind words.

Robert Heylmun


Mark and Donna Turner said...

Dear Actors,

Please do not be offended by this post. Saint Paul's does not have an official
policy banning the venerable artform of acting from participation in worship.

Let us be creative and thoughtful in the way we characterize one another's fields of study and expression, thus proving faithful to our claim of being an inclusive community.

In Love,

Mark and Donna Turner
the Cathedral Center for the Performing and Visual Arts

Robert Heylmun said...

My post does not denigrate or diminish acting as an art form. It does affirm that overly emotional renditions of Scripture during Cathedral services would be not only inappropriate but would distract the listener from the message of God's word, and center attention on the reading as if it is a performance. It is not a performance; it is a ministry and deserves respect, reverence, and a sense of duty to its importance.

Acting can certainly have a place elsewhere and within the Cathedral's preview but not during the reading of the lessons.

Doug said...


Thanks you for another of your well-written and thoughtful essays. I always enjoy them. As a Lector, I greatly appreciate your leadership and guidance of this Ministry.

Several years ago I took a Saturday class at USD on being a Lector from a retired Lutheran minister. There were participants from many denominations. This class did two things for me. First, it instilled in me the importance of this Ministry. Second, it made me realize that St. Paul's "gets it right."

Again, thanks.


Ronn said...

Too often, those who use the pulpit or the lectern do not know how to use the mike. Often they do not project their voices, thinking that the mike will amplify what they ar reading.

Some of the ladies voices definitely need amplification.

The Readings are a vital part of the Worship Service. Without them we have no underpinning for the Sermon or Homily.