Licensed Reader
Synodical Lay Worship Leaders

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The Licensed Reader is the ground level license for Synodical Lay Worship Leaders in the WV-WMD Synod. The Reader leads worship but does not prepare his/her own sermon. Instead, the Reader reads a sermon that has been selected in consultation with the Reader's supervisor.

The Reader's license was established by the WV-WMD Synod Council, at its 6 February 2021 meeting, through the adoption of the Policy for Synodical Lay Worship Leadership. Learn more at the SLWL page. The Reader is just one of four licenses that may be granted by the Commission for Synodical Lay Worship Leadership. Licensing exams are administered by the Commission, a notable shift from required attendance at educational events to competency-based licensing through examination.

Apply To Be a Reader

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. If, after reading the policy document, you have any questions, contact The Rev. Sean Smith or Bishop Riegel.

General Provisions for Synodical Lay Worship Leaders

  • Be a voting member of a congregation of this synod, or, in exceptional cases, a person appointed by the commission with the concurrence of the bishop
  • Subscribe to the Holy Scriptures (rule & norm) and the Lutheran Confessions (Book of Concord) and discharge the office in conformity with the same
  • Demonstrate liturgical and elocutionary competency
  • Abide by the standards for clergy conduct as set by the ELCA and this synod (specifically Definitions & Guidelines for Discipline)

Procedures for Licensure

  • Candidates for any class of licensure shall submit an application to the commission, providing all information requested by the commission in the application process
  • Candidates shall be examined in both knowledge of subject matter and practical skills appropriate to the class of licensure being sought
  • Licensure shall be for a period of time determined by the commission, the length of time being at the discretion of the commission for both class and individual concerns.
  • A Reader will not discharge duties inconsistent with the class of licensure held.
  • A Reader will submit reports to the commission as the commission directs.
  • A Reader may apply for licensure in another class.
  • A Reader shall cease to discharge the office upon expiration, suspension, or revocation of licensure

Reader Duties

  • Be under supervision, the supervisor being appointed by the Commission for Synodical Lay Worship Leadership
  • Lead worship according to the rites and rubrics found in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)
    • Ante-communion (The non-communion option of the Service of Holy Communion)
    • Service of the Word
    • Matins (Morning Prayer)
    • Vespers (Evening Prayer)
    • Such other rites as necessary in consultation with the Reader’s supervising pastor
  • Read, at the point in the liturgy normally appointed for the sermon/homily, a sermon, homily, or some other suitable spiritual text or message
    • Such reading shall normally be from the approved list of resources
    • Departure from the approved list of resources shall be in consultation with the supervisor

Liturgy & Rubrics

  • A Reader shall conduct worship according to the general and specific rubrics as found in the worship book employed by the congregation being served, assuming that worship book is one published by the publishing house of the ELCA or one of its predecessors
  • A Reader is not expected to conduct liturgies other than those regularly employed by the ELCA at large
  • A Reader shall not:
    • Related to Holy Communion
      • Celebrate at Holy Communion
      • Concelebrate at Holy Communion
      • Administer Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament unless granted express permission by the Bishop
    • Related to Baptism
      • Baptize except in case of emergency, such emergency never being a matter of convenience
      • Preside at the Rite of Confirmation
      • Preside at the Rite of Affirmation of Baptism
    • Related to Absolution
      • Use the formula for absolution reserved for presbyters (i.e., “ a called and ordained minister...")
      • Preside at the Rite for Corporate Confession and Forgiveness or otherwise administer absolution and/or impose hands
      • Act as confessor in the Rite for Individual Confession and Forgiveness
    • Related to other pastoral acts
      • Preside at the Marriage Rite within or without the church (exception: civil magistrates, acting in their capacity as such, may preside over the Marriage Rite but not in conjunction with synodical license
      • Preside at burials, funerals, and memorials within or without the church unless granted express permission be the bishop or the pastor loci (exception: chaplains for a government and civic organizations, acting in their capacity as such, may preside at burials, funerals, and memorials but not in conjunction with synodical license)
      • Preside at the Rite for Commendation of the Dying unless granted express permission by the bishop or the pastor loci
      • Preside over the Rite for the Laying on of Hands and Anointing the Sick
      • Preside at the Rite for Excommunication
    • Related to polity acts
      • Install offices of the congregation
      • Preside over the reception of new members
      • Preside over the reinstatement of members
    • Discharge any function reserved to the diaconal, presbyteral, or episcopal office


The vesture of a Reader shall be consistent with those employed regularly by the ELCA at large

  • These include
    • Alb
    • Cassock and Surplice
    • Preaching gown, i.e.,
      • Geneva Gown (black)
      • Talar (black)
      • Academic gown (academic hood and/or hat optional)
    • Morning coat
    • Business formal
    • Business casual in extremely hot conditions
    • Chaplain’s uniform by those serving in an approved ELCA Federal Chaplaincy
    • Habit or other symbols of ecclesiastical fraternity with the approval of the bishop
    • A small cross is optional
  • A Reader shall not wear
    • Stole (presbyteral or diaconal)
    • Chasuble
    • Clerical collars or tabs
    • Preaching bands
    • Symbols of fraternal or other non-ecclesiastical nature or organization

Arrangements for Services

  • Congregations shall arrange directly with the Reader for services
    • When a congregation has a pastor under call, this shall normally be done by the pastor unless the pastor has delegated that work to the council or member of the congregation
    • When a congregation does not have a pastor under call, this shall normally be done by someone delegated that work by the interim pastor but may be arranged by the interim
  • Advanced information provided to the Synodical Lay Worship Leader shall include
    • Time(s) and place(s) of the service(s)
    • Warnings with respect to travel
    • Liturgy to be employed, such as a bulletin or rubric, including
      • whether there are worship assistants and what their roles are if any
      • any special liturgical notes, remembering that the Reader probably does not know local customs that the locals may assume that everyone does everywhere else
    • Pericopes to be employed, especially if deviating from the lectionary (RCL) as found on the ELCA website
    • Day to be observed, especially when there is a choice between a feast/festival/commemoration or regular cycle of days
  • A Reader shall not provide services in the following circumstances unless authorized to do so by the bishop
    • Congregations not of the WV-WMD Synod (either ELCA outside this judicatory or non-ELCA)
    • Congregations of the WV-WMD Synod under suspension
    • Congregations of the WV-WMD Synod that the Bishop has identified as unsuitable for service rendered by Readers


  • The Reader shall maintain a record of all engagements including
    • Place, date, and time
    • Number in attendance
    • Liturgy used
    • Text/topic preached upon
    • Compensated or not and whether the compensation met guidelines
    • Any additional notes that may be helpful to the commission or bishop
  • The Reader shall regularly submit a copy for the record to the Commission as directed


A Synodical Lay Worship Leader shall observe †S14.19 of the Constitution of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod.


The Reader shall be compensated according to the standards enacted from time to time by the Synod Council in the Licensed Reader Compensation Schedule. Congregations shall transmit compensation to a Synodical Lay Worship Leader in a timely fashion.


Grounds for discipline shall include, but not be limited to,

  • Failure to discharge the office
  • Failure to abide by the policies set by the commission
  • Deviation from the doctrinal basis of the office
  • Violation of the norms of conduct
  • Inability to conduct the office
  • Termination of voting membership in a congregation of this synod

Does One Need a Reader's License To Read?

This touches upon a fairly technical point of ELCA polity. The synodical license is a mechanism first instituted in WV-WMD in the 1990s as a way to provide a list of lay preachers who could fill pulpits when needed. The pastor of a local congregation is not obligated to use the Synod's list. It is not uncommon that a pastor will simply select a lay member of the congregation/parish to fill the pulpit. This is permissible, but, per our governing documents, it is to be done only in consultation with the Congregation Council.

Under no circumstances should any lay person celebrate Holy Communion.

Books on ShelvesReaders' 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. Click here to access.

[ Return to the Synodical Lay Worship Leaders page ]

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

Last update: 4 April 2023