web analytics

lay presidency – again

I have written about lay presidency of the Eucharist previously. You can find one of my blog posts about lay presidency here. The publication of Sydney Anglican The Lord’s Supper in Human Hands – Epilogue (click to download PDF) makes a revisit possibly worthwhile. If you haven’t read my earlier post, that background may be worth a visit, even though some of it will be repeated here.

The context of Sydney diocese’s advocating of lay presidency is the pressing of an anti-catholic theology and practice. There is nothing more sacred than the Eucharist as the heart of catholicism. Sydney Anglicans are forbidden such “popish” practices as wearing a chasuble, adding water to the wine,… if they could get rid of the connection between priesthood and Eucharist they would have removed a central piece of the catholic hardware on which Anglicanism runs.

There is also the understanding that the sacrament is a “symbolic preaching of the gospel”. Those who are not bishops or priests are allowed to preach the gospel (but not preside at the sacrament). The perception is that this elevates the importance of the sacrament over the preaching of the gospel – in other words, the symbolic preaching of the gospel is more important than the literal preaching of the gospel. [This also assumes a ranked understanding of orders where one order is “more important” than another].

“However, if unordained people are permitted to preach, with all the importance the New Testament places on that function, why are they forbidden to administer the Lord’s Supper? By retaining such a prohibition, do we not elevate the Lord’s Supper above preaching the word of God?” (page 47 of The Lord’s Supper in Human Hands – Epilogue)

Sydney’s ecclesiology is congregational rather than diocesan. Anglican ecclesiology is diocesan. The primary community is the diocese, the primary leader is the bishop. Sydney appears, from the text, to be moving towards one presbyter per congregation.

“The presbyter, as incumbent, is the leader of the congregation, who oversees (or ‘presides over’, if we were to use this term) the congregation. All ministry that the deacon performs is by way of assistance to the presbyter. The deacon is responsible to the presbyter and his or her ministry is in that sense derivative.” (page 28)

Sydney’s document

  • has no sense that the presider presides over the whole Eucharistic liturgy
  • has no sense that the primary Eucharistic community is the diocese led by the bishop

What Sydney is doing, with its congregational ecclesiology, is transferring ministry appropriate to a bishop to the presbyter (one per congregation), and, hence, transferring ministry appropriate to a presbyter to the diaconate.

  • neglects the understanding of the diaconate as an “outward-facing” ministry

Let us put to one side that Sydney Anglicans also struggle with women bishops, “local priests” (whatever they are) and non-stipendiary priests (page 25).

I have no objection to the term presbyter – in fact, in many ways, I find it a helpful term. But I do object to terming presiding “administering” and I think that using the latter term obfuscates rather than clarifies. [I also prefer not to speak of the presider “celebrating” the Eucharist or as “the celebrant”, as I understand all of us celebrating the Eucharist together, being led by the one “presiding”].

“There are practices across the Anglican Church of Australia to do with the Lord’s Supper that if not commonplace, have become accepted practice, with Episcopal consent, but without General Synod approval, …
These include (a) the reservation of the sacrament (not just for extended communion in nursing homes) for use in parishes without priests (against the Article) (b) the practice of giving newly ordained priests a chalice as well as a Bible at ordination (against the rubric) (c) the praying of certain words prior to consecration that would imply an offering by the priest of bread and wine as works of our own hands to God (against the order of our services).
This latter practice, (c), is so serious that it turns the service of Holy Communion on its head from a sacrament of God’s grace to one of our own works.” (page 14 cf. page 32)

Someone more versed in the Prayer Book for Australia than I will have to point out how giving newly ordained priests a chalice (b) as well as a Bible at ordination is against the rubric – because I certainly can’t see it! As for “so serious” point (c) – such words are specifically included in both A Prayer Book for Australia and An Australian Prayer Book.

For an attempt at a systematic piece of writing the booklet is appallingly sloppy. It uses the word “priest” for presbyter and then says “The New Testament knows of no ministry in the church of ‘priests’ (save that of all the Christians, usually called the priesthood of the believers following 1 Peter 2).” (page 14) This is either just profoundly ignorant or they are dissembling. The word “priest” derives directly from the Greek New Testament πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros). What is often translated as “priesthood of believers” actually uses ἱερεύς (hiereus).

“Since the New Testament provides no direction for the administration of the Lord’s Supper our church would be unwise to do so save the direction that the person celebrating [sic] should be (a) a Christian (b) well regarded (c) accepted as a congregational leader (d) involved in the teaching and pastoral ministry of the church.” (page 13)

What is ironic is that this four-point description traditionally would be a categorisation of a priest!

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that denominations that have abandoned episcopally ordered eucharistic presidency in the manner that Sydney wants to do, regularly fragment into smaller and smaller discordant communities. The Holy Spirit appears to have been doing something sensible when, in the early church, the structures of eucharistic presidency developed.

Luther pastor Robb Harrell writes, “One is hard pressed to find lay presidency in the first 1500 years of the church’s history. Even after the Reformation occurred, it was the radical reformers that Lutherans rejected that pushed for things like lay presidency.”

Robb Harrell goes on to ask “if a four year residential Master of Divinity, a unit of CPE, and an internship are really required to be a good pastor. Yes, theological training is essential, as is ongoing spiritual and academic formation, but are we married to a process that ultimately hurts our churches? Perhaps the answer lies not in licensing lay people, but in carefully selecting, training, calling and ORDAINING people at the synodical level to be bi-vocational pastors.” What Rob Harrell seeks in his denomination is fully possible within Anglicanism [in fact, within my own province the pendulum IMO has swung too far and needs to swing back towards “a four year residential Master of Divinity, a unit of CPE, and an internship” – but that is a different story and blog post].

The Sydney theologians are trying to cut a branch off the Christian tree. What they are not noticing is that they are sitting on the very branch they are cutting. These Sydney Anglicans want to find their structure of Christian leadership in the Bible alone – not in the teaching and practice of the early church. But the Spirit’s presence in the early church is the very source of the Biblical texts as well as the recognition and acknowledgement that these texts are inspired. Cut off episcopal and presbyteral eucharistic presidency and with it we are cutting off the New Testament as well.

Similar Posts:

11 thoughts on “lay presidency – again”

  1. Hermano David | Brother Dah•veed

    It would seem that there are things in this document that would/should put the Archbishop right out of his job.

  2. ‘A Prayer Book for Australia’ (APBA) is not authorised for use in the Diocese of Sydney. They declined to authorise it as they had theological concerns. ‘An Australian Prayer Book’ (AAPB) is still authorised for use in the Diocese of Sydney, but it is not much used, I understand. I would think that Sydney would use the ordinal from APBA. I don’t have my copy of either here at work, so I can’t comment on the claim about the rubric not permitting the presentation of a paten and chalice.

    The longish quote you’ve included is actually from Bishop Brian’s minority opinion from the Appellate Tribunal. He is the Bishop of Armidale, a diocese in the Province of New South Wales. He agreed that there was no provision for allowing diaconal or lay presidency.

    You’re right to write about the different system of authority in the Diocese of Sydney. It places a great deal of power and authority in the hands of the presbyter in charge of a parish. Bishops are effectively ‘chief preaching elders’ and CEOs. I think there are two issues that they have with local / non-stipendiary priests. One is pragmatic – it is a measure to provide for ministry when full-time stipendiary ministry can’t be afforded (something that would not happen in economic rationalist Sydney). The other is that they place a very high value on theological literacy, and take a narrow view of how that is obtained.

    Diaconal presidency is certainly occurring in Sydney. Weirdly, it is a way that priests who are women from other diocese are allowed to preside at the Eucharist in Sydney. Sydney does not recognise their priestly orders, but does recognise them as deacons, and allows them to preside at the Eucharist in that context.

    1. Thanks so much, Colin, for your very helpful clarifications. I was unaware of APBA not being authorised in Sydney as that, as far as I know, would not be possible within our NZ constitutional arrangements. It is a fascinating example of how we can misunderstand things when we view things from our own perspective – in this case my limited, mistaken perspective.

      The AAPB ordinal has, after the laying on of hands with prayer, “The bishop delivers to each of them the Bible, saying…” I can see nothing that forbids other actions.

      I also highly value theological, liturgical, spiritual, pastoral literacy/formation.

      I understand about women bishops & priests being able to preside in Sydney as deacons. That brings me back to another discussion I have had on this site previously: whether one collects orders, or whether they are distinct – is a priest or bishop still a deacon?… Thanks again, Colin.

  3. I got my APBAs and AAPBs mixed up. I meant to write “I would think that Sydney would use the ordinal from AAPB.”

    If memory serves, Sydney opted out of the APBA discussion quite early, when it became clear that they would not be able to keep material they disapproved of out of it. It made the APBA discussion much easier than the AAPB negotiations had been – they were tortuous, and resulted in a bland compromised text (in my humble opinion). Anyway – APBA had to be received by General Synod and by each individual diocese (as most things do, due to our constitution), and Sydney did not authorise it – no surprise, they were never going to.

    The legal minds in various parts of the Australian church would read the rubric you related as only a Bible, and not anything else – hence Bishop Brain’s comment.

    Sydney’s definition of theological preparation for ordained ministry is really narrow – a degree at Moore College. I understand it is tricky to get appointed to a Sydney parish unless you have such a degree. The rest of us are in theological error, so our formation, degrees and so on don’t really have the same weight. I know you’ll get the sarcasm.

    My own feeling is that one does not collect orders. A deacon is a deacon. A priest is a priest, but there is nothing to stop them from functioning liturgically as a deacon (but the liturgical functions proper to a deacon are best reserved to them if a deacon is present). A priest’s ministry differs from that of a deacon inasmuch as the deacon’s is ‘outward facing’ (to use your term). I’m in Jerome’s camp as far as the episcopate goes. I’m in favour of per saltum ordinations, as they seem to me to make more sense of the nature of the various ministries.

    1. Colin, you and I are on the same page – and I’m quite comfortable having other pages in the book.

      It seems to me that if one takes the rubrics as exclusively as you suggest then one would require the ordinand to remain kneeling for the rest of the service, as there is no rubric allowing the ordinand to get up from the kneeling position required. 😉

  4. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco
    My delight in your interest in Sydney’s divergence from the Anglican norm knows no bounds. It is precisely this sort of divergence which needs to be kept in check if ‘Anglican Communion’ is to be a meaningful phrase. I know you differ from me in recognising the Anglican Covenant as a means to keep such divergency in check, but I will keep praying. It is clear that the Lord is working on you. Your imminent conversion to the cause cannot be far away 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, Peter. I nearly added a link to your site as a comment on the Sydney text’s claim that this is qualitatively different from what the Covenant addresses – but all this is a highly nuanced discussion, and I didn’t want to misrepresent you. It seems, however, that advocates for the Covenant know no bounds to what it will solve. A recent commenter on your site saw it as a solution to women priests.

  5. Sydney Anglicans are forbidden such “popish” practices as wearing a chasuble, adding water to the wine,… if they could get rid of the connection between priesthood and Eucharist they would have removed a central piece of the catholic hardware on which Anglicanism runs.

    It sounds, then, that “Sydney Anglicanism” would not be Anglicanism at all. (Ah, I see that you’ve said as much.) In my opinion, it would be quite embarrassing to the Anglican Covenant if such a “variation” (and I do not think it can be called that) were to find a home under the name “Anglican”, especially if that name is associated with “C/catholic”.

    You also say: These Sydney Anglicans want to find their structure of Christian leadership in the Bible alone – not in the teaching and practice of the early church.

    Indeed. If Sydney Anglicans want to adopt a Scripture-alone model of the Eucharist and Eucharistic presidency, they don’t need to go through the work of reconstructing it themselves; there are plenty of other Christian communities that operate under the same principle, and Sydney Anglicans can choose one (or more) of the models they have extrapolated from Scripture alone.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh or impolite (especially on a Friday in Lent!), but I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for Christians trying to piece together early Church protocol from the Scriptures alone.

    1. Thanks, Jeffrey. Yes, I’m afraid that using “scripture alone” it is not possible to construct the church’s liturgical life. The ongoing liturgical life of the church built on the liturgical life of Judaism and is the taken-for-granted context in which the scriptures arose. There is no way, for example, to get to the Eucharistic Prayer from scripture alone.

      Thanks, John. Yes, I am fully with you in the total equality and difference of what you are describing as the four pillars. One ministers within an order and may, in time, be called to another order.

  6. “This also assumes a ranked understanding of orders where one order is ‘more important’ than another”

    I find that this is one of the primary problem views of people who oppose an ordained priesthood. Rather than seeing the three ordained ministries as being three pillars alongside the fourth pillar of the laity (which, I’m thinking now might itself be an ordination, i.e. by not ordaining a person to orders God is in effect ordaining them to the work of the laity… that may be way off the mark but as I type this out it is suddenly appealing) people see the whole thing turned on it’s side as a ladder or pyramid with laity at the bottom, then deacons, then priests, then bishops. (Although, I should say that it has seemed to me that many arguments in favor of women in the priesthood suffer from exactly the same misunderstanding.)

    Also the misunderstanding of the term priest, as you pointed out, is the other primary issue.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.