In religious organizations, the laity comprises all lay persons collectively. This can mean either any person who is not a member of the clergy or of any monastic order or, within such an order, a monastic who is not a priest (c.f., lay brother). In recent centuries, the term is often used more generally, in the context of any specialized profession, to refer to those who are not members of that profession.


Christian laity

Episcopal Church

In the Episcopal Church the laity can have say in legislation. At General Convention up to four lay persons from each diocese is elected to represent the diocese in the House of Deputies, one of the two governmental houses in the Episcopal Church. On the local parish level, lay persons are elected to a church council called a vestry.

Roman Catholicism

In previous years the laity had a much smaller role in the work of the Catholic church. In the past, church leaders felt that the role of the laity was little more than to "Pray, Pay, and Obey."

In the years following the Second Vatican Council the role of the laity in the Church has been greatly expanded to include lay ministers of various kinds. Also, as a result of the priest shortage, members of the laity have had to take on some of the roles previously performed by priests.

The Lay Preacher in the Wesleyan / Methodist tradition

A very early tradition of preaching in the Wesleyan / Methodist churches was for a Lay Preacher to be appointed to lead services of worship and preach in a group (called a 'circuit') of meeting places or churches. The lay preacher walked or rode on horseback in a prescribed circuit of the preaching places according to an agreed pattern and timing, and people came to the meetings. After the appointment of ministers and pastors, this lay preaching tradition continued with these people being appointed by individual churches, and in turn approved and invited by nearby churches, as an adjunct to the minister or during their planned absences.

In the Uniting Church in Australia, that was constitued in part from the Methodist Church, persons can be appointed:

  • by the congregation as a Lay Preacher; and/or
  • by the regional Presbytery to conduct Communion.

Arguably the most famous Wesleyan Lay Preacher currently active is King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga.

The comparable term in the Anglican / Episcopal churches is "Lay Reader".

Buddhist lay persons

In Buddhism there is also a dichotomy between laity and monastic/clergy. The structures and dynamics of this situation should provide interesting and instructive commentary on the Christian phenomena of the clergy/laity split/organization.

Related articles

es:Laico nl:Leek (Rooms-katholieke Kerk)


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