In his book, Preaching, author Fred Craddock says that, “[In preaching] the point is not to get something off the chest but into the heart. To preach, then, is to shout a whisper… The bread of life is broken and offered, but the hearers must be allowed to chew for themselves.”

Were you aware of the diocese of Southern Ohio has a whole cadre of laypersons, fully trained and licensed by the bishop to preach the word? It’s true, and they are there for you for the asking. They would love to come to your church and offer something for your congregation to chew on.

When laypersons in our diocese, after prayerful contemplation and introspection, feel the call to become licensed lay preachers, they show up at the Procter Center on the designated Saturday, beginning in September and continuing through the academic year. The course under the spirited tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith and the Rev. Joanna Leiserson, requires two years to complete.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith (left) presented this year’s graduate, Zig Main of St. Barnabas, Montgomery (right) with his diploma.

From the first moment of the first class, students are introduced to and learn the importance of exegesis, a studied, serious process of “pulling apart” a passage of Scripture and getting at its roots. A well-done exegesis helps reveal some things about the chosen passage: What does the text say about God? What is it saying about you? What is it saying about such things as sin, judgment, grace and redemption? The completed exegesis, however, is not the sermon — it is the linchpin of it, giving the preacher a starting point. Students in the program are usually surprised to learn how hard a good preacher works! Personally, I allow two weeks to prepare a sermon, type it up, and rehearse it repeatedly until I no longer stumble over my own syntax.

The end result of Lay Preacher formation is to have available to every congregation this group, which calls itself Episcopal Lay Preachers of Southern Ohio, or ELPASO. The choice of that acronym was fortuitous, in that it’s also the word, in Spanish, for “the step,” “the path,” or “the way.” Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

In pursuit of perfection, there have been months when I wrestled with the biblical texts and by the time I was standing in the pulpit, had cleared my throat and begun to speak, I was delivering the third sermon I crafted for the occasion, having rejected my first two drafts. We don’t usually know if our sermon has touched anyone out there in the pews, but recently, a parishioner approached me after the service and touched my arm and said, “Your sermon today was beautiful, almost like poetry.” That is probably the nicest, most uplifting critique I have ever received.


Gary Haslop is a Licensed Lay Preacher and a member of St. Paul’s, Chillicothe. 

[su_box title=”ELPASO: More than just a city in Texas!” style=”glass” box_color=”#216a7f” radius=”2″]ELPASO (Episcopal Lay Preachers Association in Southern Ohio) provides ongoing support and education to Licensed Lay Preachers in the diocese. Each member of the group stands ready to be of service to all congregations in the diocese – to come as a visiting preacher, to offer their services when your regular preacher is away, when your congregation does not have an assigned preacher, or whatever the circumstances. Most of the members of ELPASO are, additionally, Licensed Lay Worship Leaders, giving congregations a sort of “one-stop shopping” option. Many lay preachers take to the pulpit regularly at their own church, polishing their skills and providing relief and backup for their clergy.
If you are in need of someone to preach at one of your services, or if you yourself feel the call to become a Lay Preacher, or have some questions about the program or would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact ELPASO’s president, Mark Conrad at or 740.243.4933 or Gary Haslop, at or 740.637.5843.[/su_box]