The Liberation of the Laity

Liberation of the Laity

“If I could have one wish fulfilled, I’d wish that Anne Rowthorn’s The Liberation of the Laity would be required reading for Christians everywhere! She is the voice for the Church’s voiceless.”
—Irene V. Jackson-Brown, Senior Fellow, Phelps-Stokes Fund

The Liberation of the Laity is a provocative book that challenges the clericalist culture of the church, and provides practical advice and sound counsel toward a more inclusive future, Further, the book affirms the history and theology of the ministry of all baptized persons in a deep and thought-provoking way. The Liberation of the Laity will spark conversation and reflection among those most concerned about the future of ministry.”
—Sheryl A. Kajawa-Holbrook, Academic Dean and holder of the Suzanne Hiatt Chair in Feminist Pastoral Theology

An excerpt from the book:

A Dynamic Spirituality A dynamic spirituality, a way to meet and to follow God, is what I have called a spirituality of the fabric. It is in our daily lives that we “keep stable the fabric of the world, and our prayer is in the practice of our trades.” (Sirach 38: 34 adapted.) In our everyday lives we find the meaning of existence, the keys to a just society, the love of our lives, the fulfillment of humanity’s hopes and the power of our prayers.

A spirituality of the fabric will find expression in occupations that actively serve God’s people, among, for example, police and firefighters, hospital workers, teachers, home makers and the like. The ministries of these persons, and those in similar positions, are fairly obvious. A spirituality of the fabric also finds expression in occupations that do not seem so apparent— occupations that keep the structures of society intact and operating smoothly. For example, I have a friend, Charlie Smith, who repairs my town’s heavy road machinery; he fixes trucks of all kinds. As soon as snow is predicted, he attaches plows to the vehicles and readies the motors. When they break down, which is frequently, he is called out. He drives the trucks in driving snow when visibility is practically zero. Much of his work is done in the still hours of the morning while most of the townspeople sleep. Were it not that Charlie and I are members of the same congregation, I would not be aware of his work and would probably take clear, clean streets in a snowy winter for granted. Charlie keeps stable the fabric of society through his essential work that keeps social structures intact.

An important aspect of spirituality is recognition. Charlie, by keeping, repairing, and operating the town’s road machinery, does necessary work. But does he see any spirituality in it? My guess is that he neither recognizes nor appreciates spiritual significance his important service. A spirituality of the fabric brings to us an appreciation of those necessary, but largely invisible tasks that are essential to the smooth running of public life….

It may be difficult to see how some jobs contribute to the fabric of society—the multitude of office and factory jobs, for example—until one looks closely at what they produce. One might wonder how God is served through the manufacture of steel products. But if the steel factory produces girders needed so bridges in the Interstate highway system can be spanned with sturdy and strong materials, then the spirituality of steel production can be more easily understood. The same is true of automobile assembly line workers. Strong, well-manufactured cars and buses are essential to life and safety.

In the most basic way, people follow the Holy God of the Universe through their being—their attitudes, thoughts, ideas, feelings, bearing, and behaving. Spirituality encompasses being. It is probably safe to say that most work is unsatisfying, unrewarding, boring and boring. Many people simply tolerate their jobs, no more than that. But however routine most work may be, human relationships on any job are never routine. Whatever our jobs, we commonly spend many hours of every day with our fellow workers, hours that add up to weeks, months and years. Our fellow employees have babies, family weddings and funerals; they get divorced. They get thrown out of apartments; they buy houses….Our fellow workers represent every stage of life, every age, every human activity, every passion, all of life’s joys and failings; they are part of every aspect of God’s creation. The respect, the consideration, care and even sympathy we encounter in our fellow workers is important in developing and nurturing a dynamic spirituality of the fabric. By our being, through our being, we serve God in our fellow workers, just as we too are served. The importance of a spirituality of the fabric cannot be overestimated, for where human beings are present to each other, God too is in their midst.


Liberation of the Laity Study Guide

Also Available, The Liberation of the Laity Study Guide:

The Liberation of the Laity will irritate, inform, and inspire. And it should be read by all who are willing to have their eyes, and most especially their hearts, opened a little wider.”
—Virginia Seminary Journal