In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

. A person who is a member of a religious order
Religious order
A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of initiates and, in some...

 who is not ordained
Holy Orders
The term Holy Orders is used by many Christian churches to refer to ordination or to those individuals ordained for a special role or ministry....

 legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order (for example a nun
A nun is a woman who has taken vows committing her to live a spiritual life. She may be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent...

 or lay brother
Lay brother
In the most common usage, lay brothers are those members of Catholic religious orders, particularly of monastic orders, occupied primarily with manual labour and with the secular affairs of a monastery or friary, in contrast to the choir monks of the same monastery who are devoted mainly to the...


In the past in Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 cultures, the term lay priest was sometimes used to refer to a secular priest, a diocesan priest who is not a member of a religious order. Terms such as lay priest, lay clergy and lay nun were once used in Buddhist cultures to indicate ordained persons who continued to live in the wider community instead of retiring to a monastery. In recent centuries, the term is often used more generally, in the context of any specialized profession
A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain....

, to refer to those who are not members of that profession.

The word lay derives from the Anglo-French lai (from Late Latin
Late Latin
Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD extending in Spain to the 7th. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin...

 laicus, from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 λαϊκός, laikos, of the people, from λαός, laos, the people at large).


In Anglicanism, the term "laity" refers to anyone who is not a bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

, priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

, or deacon
Deacon is a ministry in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions...

, that is, the fourth order of ministers in the Church. In the Anglican tradition, all baptized persons are expected to minister in Christ's name. The orders of ministry are thus laymen
A layperson or layman is a person who is not an expert in a given field of knowledge. The term originally meant a member of the laity, i.e. a non-clergymen, but over the centuries shifted in definition....

, deacons, priests, and bishops.

The ministry of the laity is "to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church". Much of the ministry of the laity thus takes place outside official church structures in homes, workplaces, schools, and so forth. Laymen also play important roles in the structures of the church.

There are elected lay representatives on the various governing bodies of churches in the Anglican communion. In the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

, these governing bodies range from a local Parochial Church Council
Parochial Church Council
The parochial church council , is the executive body of a Church of England parish.-Powers and duties:Two Acts of Parliament define the powers and duties of PCCs...

, through Deanery
A Deanery is an ecclesiastical entity in both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. A deanery is either the jurisdiction or residence of a Dean.- Catholic usage :...

 Synods and Diocesan Synod
Diocesan Synod
In the Anglican Communion, the model of government is the 'Bishop in Synod', meaning that a diocese is governed by a bishop acting with the advice and consent of representatives of the clergy and laity of the diocese. In much of the Communion the body by which this representation is achieved is...

s. At the topmost level, the General Synod
General Synod
-Church of England:In the Church of England, the General Synod, which was established in 1970 , is the legislative body of the Church.-Episcopal Church of the United States:...

 includes a house of Laity. Likewise, in the Episcopal Church in the USA the General Convention
General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America
The General Convention is the primary governing and legislative body of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. With the exception of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Constitution and Canons, it is the ultimate authority in the Episcopal Church. General Convention...

 includes four laymen from each diocese
A diocese is the district or see under the supervision of a bishop. It is divided into parishes.An archdiocese is more significant than a diocese. An archdiocese is presided over by an archbishop whose see may have or had importance due to size or historical significance...

 in the House of Deputies, and each diocesan convention includes lay delegates from the parishes. On the local parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

 level, laymen are elected to a church council called a vestry
A vestry is a room in or attached to a church or synagogue in which the vestments, vessels, records, etc., are kept , and in which the clergy and choir robe or don their vestments for divine service....

 which manages church finances and elects the parish rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...


Parish musicians, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, sexton
Sexton (office)
A sexton is a church, congregation or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard. In smaller places of worship, this office is often combined with that of verger...

s, sacristan
A sacristan is an officer who is charged with the care of the sacristy, the church, and their contents.In ancient times many duties of the sacristan were performed by the doorkeepers , later by the treasurers and mansionarii...

s, etc., are all roles normally filled by laymen. At higher levels, diocesan and national offices rely on laymen in many important areas of responsibility. Often specialized ministries as campus ministers, youth ministers, or hospital chaplains are performed by laymen.

Laymen serve in worship services in a number of important positions, including verger
A verger is a person, usually a layman, who assists in the ordering of religious services, particularly in Anglican churches.-History:...

s, acolyte
In many Christian denominations, an acolyte is anyone who performs ceremonial duties such as lighting altar candles. In other Christian Churches, the term is more specifically used for one who wishes to attain clergyhood.-Etymology:...

s, lector
Lector is a Latin term for one who reads, whether aloud or not. In modern languages the word has come to take various forms, as either a development or a loan, such as , , and . It has various specialized uses:...

s, intercessors, usher
Church usher
In many denominations of the Christian Church, a Church usher is the first official representative seen when entering the church. The role of the usher in church is a volunteer position, and is often considered one of honor, particularly if the church or a church committee member selects an usher...

s, and so forth. Acolytes include torch
A torch is a fire source, usually a rod-shaped piece of wood with a rag soaked in pitch and/or some other flammable material wrapped around one end. Torches were often supported in sconces by brackets high up on walls, to throw light over corridors in stone structures such as castles or crypts...

 bearers, crucifer
A crucifer is, in some Christian churches , a person appointed to carry the church's processional cross, a cross or crucifix with a long staff, during processions at the beginning and end of the service...

s, thurifers, and boat bearer
Boat boy
Boat boy or boat bearer are terms used for a junior altar server position found in Catholic and Anglican Churches. The role of a boat boy is to assist the thurifer during liturgies in which incense is used.The boat bearer carries the boat which holds the supplies of incense...

s. Lectors read the lessons from the Bible appointed for the day (except for the Gospel reading, which is read by a Deacon), and may also lead the Prayers of the People.

Some specialized lay ministries require special licensing by the bishop. Which ministries require a license varies from province to province. In the Episcopal Church, there are six specialized lay ministries requiring a license: Pastoral Leader, Worship Leader, Preacher, Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, and Catechist.

Roman Catholicism

This Second Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

 [1962 – 1965] spent a great deal of time exploring the purpose and mission of the Laity in the Catholic Church. One of the main documents specifically relating to the Laity was Apostolicam Actuositatem.

Paragraph 31 of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium
Lumen Gentium
Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. This dogmatic constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5...

 defines the laity as follows:
The Second Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

 taught that the laity's specific character is secularity, i.e. as Christians who live the life of Christ in the world, their role is to sanctify the created world by directing it to become more Christian in its structures and systems: "It belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in the affairs of the world and directing them according to God's will," stated the Council in "Lumen Gentium." The laity are full members of the Church, who fully share in Church's purpose of sanctification, of "inner union of men with God," (CCC 775) acting with freedom and personal responsibility and not as mere agents of the hierarchy. Due to their baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

, they are members of God's family, the Church, and they grow in intimate union with God, "in" and "by means" of the world. It is not a matter of departing from the world as the monks and the nuns do that they sanctify themselves; it is precisely through the material world sanctified by the coming of the God made flesh, i.e. made material, that they reach God. Doctors, mothers of a family, farmers, bank tellers, drivers, by doing their jobs in the world with a Christian spirit are already extending the Kingdom of God. According to the repeated statements of Popes and lay Catholic leaders, the laity should say "we are the Church," in the same way that the saints said that "Christ lives in me."

Lay involvement has taken diverse forms including participation in the life of the parish, unions of prayer
Unions of Prayer
Union of Prayer was a previous term for some Roman Catholic lay ecclesial movements.They tended to be archconfraternities aiming at the conversion of various groups to Catholicism...

, confraternities
A confraternity is normally a Roman Catholic or Orthodox organization of lay people created for the purpose of promoting special works of Christian charity or piety, and approved by the Church hierarchy...

, communes
Medieval commune
Medieval communes in the European Middle Ages had sworn allegiances of mutual defense among the citizens of a town or city. They took many forms, and varied widely in organization and makeup. Communes are first recorded in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, thereafter becoming a widespread...

, guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

s, lay apostolate
Lay apostolate
The lay apostolate is made up from laypeople and consecrated religious who exercise a ministry in cooperation with the Catholic Church. These organizations cooperate with ecclesiastical authorities. They operate "under direction of her pastors" but are not members of the official Church hierarchy...

s, Catholic Action
Catholic Action
Catholic Action was the name of many groups of lay Catholics who were attempting to encourage a Catholic influence on society.They were especially active in the nineteenth century in historically Catholic countries that fell under anti-clerical regimes such as Spain, Italy, Bavaria, France, and...

, secular institute
Secular institute
In the Roman Catholic Church, a secular institute is an organization of individuals who are consecrated persons – professing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience – while living in the world, unlike members of a religious order who live in community. It is one of the...

s, and lay ecclesial movements
Roman Catholic lay ecclesial movement
Lay ecclesial movements are one form of associations of the faithful of the Catholic Church.Associations of the faithful are groups of baptized Catholics, clerics or laity or both together, who jointly foster a more perfect life or promote public worship or Christian teaching, or who devote...


The role of the laity in the Church includes lay ministers
Lay Ecclesial Ministry
Lay ecclesial ministry is the term adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to identify the relatively new category of pastoral ministers in the Catholic Church who serve the Church but are not ordained...

. Also, as a result of the priest shortage
Priest shortage
A priest shortage is the situation of a reduced number of priests in religions, especially the Roman Catholic Church.In 2008, 49,631 parishes in the world had no resident priest pastor. While the number of Catholics in the world nearly doubled between 1970 and 2008, growing from 653 Million to...

, members of the laity have had to take on some of the roles previously performed by priests.

Methodist Lay Preacher

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 Local Preacher
Methodist local preacher
A Methodist local preacher is a lay person who has been accredited by a Methodist church to lead worship on a regular basis. Local preachers play an important role in the Methodist Church of Great Britain and other churches historically linked to it, and have also been important in English social...

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 addition to being appointed by members of their local churches, Local and Certified Lay Speaker
Lay speaker
A lay speaker is a position in the United Methodist Church for the laity. Technically, a lay speaker is a “member of a local church … who is ready … to serve the Church.” Generally, lay speakers are leaders in the United Methodist Church on local, district, and conference levels...

of the United Methodist Church (more commonly in the United States) attend a series of training sessions. These training sessions prepare the individual to become a leader within the church. All individuals who are full members of the church are laity, but some go on to become Lay Speakers. Some preachers get their start as Lay Speakers.

In the Uniting Church in Australia
Uniting Church in Australia
The Uniting Church in Australia was formed on 22 June 1977 when many congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, the Presbyterian Church of Australia and the Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union....

, that was constituted 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
    The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...


A well-known lay preacher was the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
Tāufaāhau Tupou IV, King of Tonga, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, KStJ son of Queen Sālote Tupou III and her consort Prince Viliami Tungī Mailefihi, was the king of Tonga from the death of his mother in 1965 until his own death in 2006...

 of Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...


The comparable term in the Anglican and Episcopal churches is Lay Reader
Lay Reader
A lay reader is a layperson authorized by a bishop of the Anglican Church to read some parts of a service of worship. They are members of the congregation called to preach or lead services, but not called to full-time ministry.Anglican lay readers are licensed by the bishop to a particular parish...


Layman, ‘laity': In short: "laity" means "common people". The English word "laity" comes from the Greek laikos which meant "of the people", "common" (common, in the meaning "unholy", "unclean" and similar). The related verb laikoô meant "to make common", "to desecrate". Whoever calls people "laity" (or "layman" or "laymen" in within the religious context), is actually calling them "common", that is, unholy or "unclean". However, most people are perhaps unaware (we pray) of the true meaning, and it has become a custom to call non-clergy, lay.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, practice the principle of having a lay ministry. Essentially all worthy male members above the age of 12 are ordained to an office of the priesthood and hold various positions in the church. With the exception of General Authorities, all leadership positions are temporary. Permanent positions are only held by apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventy. They are also unpaid positions, and they are often called to these positions after a long secular career. Patriarch (usually one per Stake) are also called for life.

Buddhist lay persons

In Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, a layperson is known as an upasaka
Upāsaka or Upāsikā are from the Sanskrit and Pāli words for "attendant". This is the title of followers of Buddhism who are not monks, nuns, or novice monastics in a Buddhist order, and who undertake certain vows...

(masc.) or upasika (fem.). Buddhist laypeople take refuge
Refuge (Buddhism)
Buddhists "take refuge" in, or to "go for refuge" to, the Three Jewels . This can be done formally in lay and monastic ordination ceremonies.The Three Jewels general signification is: * the Buddha;* the Dharma, the teachings;...

 in the Triple Gem
Three Jewels
The Three Jewels, also called the Three Treasures, the Siemese Triples, Three Refuges, or the Triple Gem , are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.The Three Jewels are:* BuddhaTaking refuge in the Three Jewels is...

 (the Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

, his teaching
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

, and his community of noble disciples
Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

) and accept the Five Precepts as rules for conduct. Laymen and laywomen are two of the "four assemblies" that comprise the Buddha's "Community of Disciples
Shravaka or Śrāvaka or Sāvaka means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple".This term is used by both Buddhists and Jains. In Jainism, a shravaka is any lay Jain...


In Chinese Buddhism, there are usually laypersons, who are depicted wearing a black robe and sometimes a brown sash, denoting that they received the five precepts.

External links

  • The Code of Canon Law (Roman Catholic Church)
  • The Religions of South Vietnam
    South Vietnam
    South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

     in Faith and Fact: V. Buddhism in Vietnam
    Buddhism in Vietnam
    Buddhism in Vietnam as practiced by the ethnic Vietnamese is mainly of the Mahāyāna tradition. Buddhism came to Vietnam as early as the 2nd century CE through the North from Central Asia and via Southern routes from India...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.