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Janet Proudman, Cathedral LLM

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Behind the scenes header image


Janet Proudman, Cathedral LLMEmily: What on earth is an LLM and what does it mean?

Janet: The acronym ‘LLM’ stands for Licensed Lay Minister, sometimes known as Readers. We are ministers in the Church of England who are not ordained, in the way that priests are, but who are given licence by the Bishop to care for and teach people.

The term ‘Reader’ comes from the original job, which was to read sermons, or read services, when there was no priest there. It was important because literacy was once far less common. So a Reader would have been somebody who was literate and respectable! Someone who could take a service.

In the last 150 years things have changed somewhat and Readers or LLMs are licensed to a preaching, teaching ministry that they train for. The office of Reader is nationally accredited and governed by Canon Law [the laws of the Church of England].

We are ‘ministers of the word’, which means that we can lead non-Sacramental worship: conducting morning and evening prayer, funerals… In my role here at Christ Church, I officiate sometimes at Evensong and at Matins and I assist at Communion services. That’s the kind of liturgical role that most LLMs have.

Readers' Badge, identifying Janet as an LLMEmily: How would someone be able to spot an LLM?

Janet: In services I will dress in robes like the rest of the clergy but the difference is that I wear a blue scarf (if you’re an ecclesiastical vestment nerd, it’s technically a ‘tippet’). The Reader colour is blue, so when I’m not in robes I wear my Readers’ badge: it functions like a clerical collar for identifying priests. The badge itself is an enamelled blue circle, blue like the scarf, with a silver cross over it. Not many people are familiar with it, but if you spot one you know that person is an LLM in the Church of England!

Emily: What is distinctive about this ministry?

Janet: Being an LLM is a wonderful ministry, it’s a kind of bridge ministry between the Church and the world. So I am a trained church minister but my life is very much in the world. I’ve had jobs outside the Church and that informed how I was, and how I am, in church.

Sometimes people find us easier to speak with openly, as they may see us, rightly or wrongly, as more perceptive and sympathetic about secular life. It is usually a flexible preaching, teaching ministry, but it is different for each individual LLM. We can speak from the point of view of our experience at work, whatever form that work takes.

Janet at Christ Church for her Licensing as a Lay Minister, 1990Emily: Tell me a little about the work you’ve done outside the Church

Janet: I’ve done various things over the years: I’m a retired University lecturer, I used to broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Oxford as their Nutritionist (I did that for about 35 years) and I’ve just finished 10 years as an honorary Hospital Chaplain at the John Radcliffe and Churchill Hospitals.

That was one place where my ‘working’ life and my life in the Church felt very close together. One of the great privileges of being an LLM has been conducting church funerals for people who were rather wary of the Church or of clergy; I have conducted funerals for friends or colleagues who do not necessarily think of me as a church minister.

Emily: How did you become an LLM?

Janet: I’m actually quite a late convert to Christianity - I’m a lapsed humanist! But after my son was baptised I thought I had better take him to church, and something just clicked into place that first time I went there. After a few years of getting more and more involved in the church, the vicar suggested that I might want to train as an LLM. At the time I had no idea what that meant!

I was lucky enough that the nearest church to us was part of a theological college, which was a great source of support for me. I trained part-time on the Oxford Diocesan Scheme, which took three years, and then went into the parish of Cowley St John.

Janet's commissioning as Cathedral LLM, January 2018I had always felt that my calling was to my work as an academic nutritionist, and I still think that was true. But being an LLM added another dimension to what I was doing with my life.

Emily: So tell me about the job you do here, what does that involve?

It’s threefold really: there is the public-facing aspect of being involved in our various services, but I also have a pastoral responsibility towards the Cathedral congregation and then to the Cathedral staff as well.

I am there for pastoral support for everyone at the Cathedral services, including our volunteers. I robe at all services at Christ Church that I attend, so that I can meet and greet the congregation. And I am currently running, with Mark Speeks, one of our Honorary Chaplains, a book group for the congregation after the Choral Eucharist on Sundays.

Janet as the Angel Gabriel, Crib Service 2018Emily: How is this job different from contexts you’ve been in before?

Janet: I have been a Lay Minister now for 28 years, but almost all of that time has been spent in one parish, where I live in East Oxford. There were many wonderful things about being there, it’s a great parish and I was always quite busy, which is a real gift as an LLM.

There are some things I miss, such as the very different ways you come into contact with people in a parish hall – that’s not something we have here, and also the regular joy of children’s ministry, though I have enjoyed getting involved with our children and families services: I was the Angel Gabriel at this year’s crib service and got to bring out my wings again!

One of the things that’s nice here is that there is a definite sense of the value that Lay Ministry contributes. But probably my favourite thing about being here is the fabulous music we get from our choir; Choral Evensong is just bliss! And every week I get to hear three massive sermons from different theologians. So I’m very spoilt really!

Emily: What is your favourite part of the Cathedral?

Detail from the Jonah Window in the CathedralJanet: That’s difficult because there are so many things I could choose! I suppose that one thing I always try to point out to visitors is the Jonah Window by Abraham van Linge which is in the North Aisle. People often miss it because it’s away from the direction they’re walking in, but it’s such a fabulous window.

The Jonah window depicts a very unusual topic for stained glass. It’s surprisingly old, and is very beautiful. Jonah looks out at the city of Nineveh, the site of which is by Mosul. The harbour, the tree, the sun…all the details are wonderfully shown.

If you come into the Cathedral, make sure you look out for that.