As Anglicans, we stongly believe in the power of scripture and the importance of reading scripture in our worship. Our worship has a dual emphasis of both Word and Sacrament and a significant amount of sacred scripture is read each time we gather to worship. Having the scripture read so that all hear and understand is then very important to liturgy done well. (Mimi Jones is pictured reading the Epistle at Christ Church Episcopal, Savannah)
I remember being struck by how well the readings in worship were done when I first visited Virginia Theological Seminary. There was a reading from a complicated argument being put forward by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans which I heard so clearly that it was compelling in a way I had not previously encountered. I was struck then by the power of scripture itself to strike a chord before anyone comments on it. The sermon that day was not on the reading from Romans, yet I left the chapel still ruminating on the reading as well as on the Gospel on which the sermon did focus.
Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland (pictured here and below) has been for many years a lay reader at our Cathedral of Holy Trinity in Paris. Recently, the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whelon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, wrote an essay for Anglicans Online on his interview with her on how she prepares to read in church. She says in part that “reading the Scriptures in church has to be an authentic proclamation of the reader’s faith. Preparation is essential – there are far too many last-minute readings in our churches.”
She points out what a difference it makes for the reader to pray through the text and wrestle with its meaning before proclaiming the text in worship. The full article is well worth reading. It is online here Reading the Bible as a Statement of Faith. The award winning actress does not recommend a dramatic reading, but reading must flow out of the faith of the reader. Yet she does come around to an actor’s understanding. She told Bishop Whelon “I once asked Jimmy Cagney, ‘just what is acting?’ He said at first, ‘I dunno…’ But then he said, ‘All I know is that you have to mean what you say.’”
In Romans 10:14 Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” But lay readers should also know that in their public proclamation of God’s Word that a congregation can also hear and so come to believe.
I know that nothing is more formational than encountering the Word of God and so nothing can be more foundational to our liturgies than scripture read well. I commend this essay to all who read scripture in our congregations.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary