Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can a Lay Person Really Speak?

Here I am leading a session at the Advanced Class

About three years ago, I responded to an announcement at my church about Lay Speaking classes. In the United Methodist Church, lay people can become Certified Lay Speakers. Because I have been speaking and singing in front of groups since I was a child, this sounded interesting to me.

I signed up and paid the little fee, and was excited to attend the first class, which I was sure would be the spiritual equivalent of Speech 101 in college. I loved that class, because we had a wonderful instructor.

Sheri, Ryan and Tami,
Course Instructors

To become certified through the United Methodist Church, two separate courses are required: Basic and Advanced. Sometimes someone will only take one or the other and think that they are certified, but it doesn’t quite work like that. Both classes have to be completed within a three-year time frame to be eligible for certification. Each class lasts approximately two days of eight hour sessions each. The Basic Class doesn’t have to be taken before the Advanced class.

Ellie attended the book table.
This was good for me because I was able to sign up for the Advanced Class first. Our particular topic was Our United Methodist Heritage. We received a book on the topic, which was great to have. Knowing the history of the religion that you profess is always beneficial. It is great to understand what the core beliefs are and why. One of the things that I received from this class is the knowledge of the connectedness of the United Methodist Church. We are somewhat unique in this over some, but not all, other religions. 

One of the benefits of this connectional system is that we have ministries in operation all over the world at all times. When a disaster occurs in a country, we don’t have to send people; usually, we already have people there who live there. And through our UMCOR program, (United Methodist Committee on Relief), because of our apportionments, (money paid to a central fund by every Methodist Church), every penny donated to UMCOR goes directly to the relief effort. None of that money is used for administrative costs. This is a church that is truly being the hands and feet of Jesus worldwide. Lay speaking classes helped me to realize the extent of these programs.

The thing that surprised me about the class is that it had more of a focus on ministry than on speaking. The idea behind the class was to give us the background and information that we needed to be able to lead a class about Methodism within our own churches. I also noticed that we had a lot of small group discussions, which gave us the opportunities to explore topics with others.

That is when I realized that Lay Speaking is more about leading, teaching and ministering. Speaking is one element of this leadership, but ironically, speaking isn’t always the focus.

When I took the basic class, in addition to providing information about the different gifts and ministries of laity, they also did a session about preaching and had us to write and present our own sermons, based utilizing the Wesleyan quadrilateral. That was fun and a little scary, because we didn’t just present our own sermons. We were critiqued on our sermons. But it turned out to not be as scary as I thought because the one critiquing now would be the one preaching later. That always softens the criticism before it starts.

After I finished the second class, which, for me, was the Basic class, I received a certificate, a pin and a wallet card that can be used for a discount card on selected books at Cokesbury. My children immediately lost the pin, but it was nice to have while it lasted. 

Then, I turned in a form to my Pastor for her signature and presentation to the charge conference. (Annual meeting of the administrative board with the District Superintendent to kick the tires, so to speak.) A vote is taken at the charge conference meeting to approve lay speakers. I am guessing that a recent ax murderer wouldn’t be approved. Then the District Superintendent forwards that information to the leader of the District Lay Speaking Committee. And voila, the process is complete.

Since becoming a Lay Speaker, I have had the opportunity to join the District Lay Speaking board and help to teach the newer classes. The Advanced Class topic changes every year based on the selection among approximately eight topics that are available. I have also had the opportunity to speak at different functions at church and preach at other churches. This has been a very rewarding journey.

For those in the Austin, Texas district, the next class will be held at Manchaca United Methodist Church on April 21 and 28, 2012 at 8am both days. Childcare and lunch will be provided. To sign up please contact Tami Anderson at

copyright 2012 by Kathy Robbins

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