Synodical Lay Worship Leaders


The WV-WMD Synod Council, at its 6 February 2021 meeting, adopted a new policy related to licensed lay preachers, establishing the Synodical Lay Worship Leaders program (download the SLWL policy here). There are two innovative aspects of the SLWL program. First, there are four different licenses (reader, apprentice preacher, journ preacher, and master preacher), each with its own norms and authorizations (detailed in the policy document previously mentioned). Second, licensure exams replace the BLWL requirement for attendance at specific educational events.

The adoption of the SLWL policy does not rescind or amend the existing Bishop's Lay Worship Leaders policy; only the Synod Assembly can rescind or otherwise amend the BLWL policy. At its January 2020 meeting, Synod Council appointed the Select Commission for Synodical Lay Worship Leadership (The Rev. Sean Smith (chair), The Rev. Sally Bartling, and Stephanie Setley) to review the Bishop's draft for Synodical Lay Worship Leaders with report to be made to the Synod Council with recommendations. Following successful completion of that work, the the Select Commission was discharged and reconstituted with The Rev. Sean Smith as chair, and Paul Wangerin, The Rev. Ian Reid, and The Rev. Ruth Bullwinkle as members. This reconstituted select commission was then charged with development of procedures related to the initiation of the Reader license. Roll out continues.


Reader: Readers lead worship and read a sermon selected in consultation with his/her supervisor. The Reader license is now being brought on-line. Learn more, including norms, duties, procedures, etc., on the Licensed Reader page

Apprentice Preacher: An apprentice preacher leads worship and prepares and preachers his/her own sermon in consultation with his/her supervisor.

Journ Preacher: A Journ Preacher, no longer under supervision, leads worship and prepares and preachers his/her own sermon.

Master Preacher: A Master Preacher supervises Readers and Apprentice Preachers.


Applications for the reader license are now being accepted (download application here).


Policy & Norms

The full Synodical Lay Worship Leaders policy document is downloadable for review. You find in it a complete list of norms. As each license comes on line, a dedicated page to the policy and norms related to that license will be uploaded. At this time, the Licensed Readers page is on-line. If, after reading the policy document, you have any questions, contact The Rev. Sean Smith or Bishop Riegel.

Compensation Guidelines

Compensation guidelines have not yet been set by Synod Council for Synodical Lay Worship Leaders. Once set, they will be posted here.

Sacraments & Pastoral Acts

Holy Communion may only be celebrated by an ordained presbyter (pastor) on the roster of the ELCA or an ordained presbyter with ordination equivalency on the on the roster of a full-communion partner and in good standing. Special dispensation for lay Eucharistic presidency, under the policies of the ELCA, can only be granted by the bishop under unusual circumstances and, then, for only six months at a time. At this time, there are no active dispensations for lay Eucharistic presidency. If your congregation has received a dispensation in the past, please contact Bishop Riegel to discuss your situation before engaging in lay Eucharistic presidency.

Holy Baptism, when administered in an emergency, may be performed by anyone. An emergency requires both imminent danger of death and the unavailability of an ordained presbyter (pastor). Prompt reporting to the local pastor is required. When administered during the worship of the congregation, the regular presider is the pastor loci (whether the regularly called pastor of the congregation or the interim). Another ordained presbyter can do so at the invitation of the pastor loci.

A funeral is neither a sacrament nor a rite reserved to the clergy by either civil or ecclesiastical law. A Synodical Lay Worship Leader may be engaged for a funeral of a member of a congregation of the ELCA when authorized by the pastor loci. If performing a funeral for someone who is not a member of a congregation of the ELCA (and not in connection with the ELCA), someone who happens to be a SLWL can officiate but does so in some other capacity (e.g., as an American Legion chaplain, fire chaplain, etc.), not confusing the offices.

A wedding is not a sacrament. Civil law, however, in Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia limits who may legally conduct a wedding. Additionally, out-of-state clergy should ascertain whether bonding or some other requirement exists (as in the case of West Virginia and Virginia).

Extra-Synodical Service

There is no reciprocity with other synods or with non-ELCA denominations with respect to Synodical Lay Worship Leaders. If invited to lead worship in another synod or denomination, contact the bishop before agreeing to do so.

Books on shelvesReader's Sermon Library

The Commission is developing a library of sermons to assist readers. The 15th edition, with sermons for Year A through the start of Easter is now online. Click here to access.

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West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
304-363-4030  +

Last update: 4 April 2023