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But Who Will Preside? A review of Issues concerning ‘Lay Presidency’ in parts of South America and in the Anglican Communion at large by Alan Hargrave

May 29, 2015

BWWPThe author starts by saying: I think we should need to clear away the notion that if delegation of the role occurs, then that is ordination, whether by post, or FAX, or phone-call! Delegation of this sort, whether it be desirable or not (which is the issue at hand), is proposed exactly to avoid the over-kill of ordination, and we would be wise to keep the two matters distinct.

Though the proposals came from Chile, the situation faced by that diocese is common to all the Cono Sur dioceses. For example, I myself, having as a licensed lay preacher, with other lay colleagues, established a small con­gregation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second city, found myself 500 miles by road from the nearest Anglican priest in La Paz. Thus we were only able to celebrate communion on average every 4-6 months, when the bishop (who lived in Lima, Peru, over 1000 miles away) came to visit. On one occasion we were visited by an English clergyman, who, after a half hour practice at reading the Eucharistic prayer in Spanish (a language he did not understand), presided for us at the eucharist (a procedure which I would not, on reflection, repeat). On the other hand I was able to preach, lead worship, baptize, bury the dead and conduct weddings, all of which I did.

The ramifications of such a situation go way beyond the lack of provision of communion. A congregation soon begins to infer a very high theology of the eucharist and the ordained ministry (particularly in a traditional RC culture), which there may be no intention of implying. The fact that this one act, and this alone, in the regular life of the local church, is of such significance as to require a special person, someone the congregation may not even know, to perform it, elevates both the event and the perfor­mer to almost magical status. Furthermore, it becomes an act divorced from the daily life of the Christian community, almost foreign to it, some­thing from outside rather than something springing from within. This is but one example of many such instances.

The major theological justification for the changes was stated as ‘applying the Biblical concept of the Priesthood of All Believers to the situation in our Dioceses’) This concept was never developed, but simply stated as though it were commonly understood and accepted. ‘The priesthood of all believers was defined at the time of the Reformation but never developed fully in practice, leaving an inadequate concept of minis­try in the church’.

sees lay pre­sidency as exceptional, rather than normative. ‘It is normal in the church for the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion to be celebrated by those who have been duly ordained priest by an Anglican Bishop’ (note that Baptism and Communion are treated together in this context) and ‘we / are here talking about exceptional cases’. Thus the long-term solution: ‘it is desired that each congregation should have its own priest as soon as possible’.

The conditions for Lay Presidency were closely defined. The person concerned should:

Be given an episcopal licence, valid only for two years (or until the person were ordained priest, or a priest were appointed), renewable at the Bishop’s discretion.

Be a mature Christian man (women’s ordination was not an issue in the Cono Sur at that time).

Be approved by the Church Council.

Receive any preparation required by the Bishop.

Have already been involved in the ministry ‘area’ of ‘Word and Sacraments’ (as opposed to the area of ‘Practical Ministries’).

In addition the licence was only to operate in one congregation, and if a priest or Bishop were visiting, he would preside.

A further proviso was later added at the recommendation of the Theologi­cal Commission—that the person be a member of the Anglican Church (!) and that preference be given to a deacon, if there were one in the congregation.

Finally, the whole proposal was to be for an experimental period of just three years.

Itinerant priests travelling around remote congregations to provide communion. This has been (and still is) the practice in many areas in the Cono Sur. However, as already stated, it tends to imply an elevated theology of eucharist and ordained ministry. It also means that communion is infrequently celebrated in many congregations, which cuts against recent ecumenical agreement. (e.g. ‘The Eucharist should be celebrated frequently’ and ‘we believe that (weekly eucharist) should be accepted as the norm’). Furthermore, there is the danger of separating presidency of the eucharist from presiding over the life of the congregation (cf ARCIC “It is right that he who has oversight in the church and is the focus of its unity should preside at . .. the Eucharist’ ). In many such congregations leadership exists which carries the responsibility for every aspect of church life yet does not have the authority to celebrate communion. (This is true in many churches in the UK in rural areas or during interregnums.) Thus there is a separation between authority and responsibility which seems impossible to justify theologically. (It is worth noting that the original proposals some years ago for ‘Regional Episcopacy’, now widely accepted, based their argument on just this point, that you cannot exercise authority without responsibility, and came from the same source‑ the diocese of Chile!) ARCIC cites Ignatius: ‘The man exercising this oversight presided at the Eucharist and no other could do so without his consent’.’ Though ARCIC does not interpret it in this way, it almost seems to offer a mandate for lay presidency, with the bishop’s consent!

In favour of the ‘travelling priest’ approach is the argument that whoever presides must represent not just the local church but the universal church, and because ordination, potentially at least, is to the universal church, it provides the only acceptable focus of unity. However, baptism is also into the universal, not the local church, yet there is widespread agreement in the Anglican Communion that a deacon or even a lay person may adminis­ter baptism—even someone with no recognized office in the church, such as a midwife. It is difficult to maintain this line of argument for communion unless it is strictly maintained for baptism as well. Note that, for deacons at least, it is not just exceptional, but normal practice, for them to baptize.

A number of Provinces favour the use of the reserved sacrament. This is rejected by Chile and the other dioceses in the Cono Sur which stand in the evangelical tradition. At stake is the question: in what way is Christ present at the Eucharist? This of course was a major issue at the time of the Reformation, in reaction to the adoration of ‘the ‘Host’, and related practices. Neill suggests that Cranmer: ‘desired to exclude absolutely the idea that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a local presence’ and adds ‘consecration and communion were to become a single act’.

Linked with the move away from the notion of a precise ‘moment’ of con­secration is the appreciation of communion as a total act, which does not end with the blessing: ‘Christ fulfils the Eucharist in his people when the communicants go into the world … as witnesses of the Kingdom of God’. Extending communion to the sick following a eucharistic celebra­tion does not appear at odds with this principle.

The practice which receives widest support is that of ordaining local priests. Cono Sur has been at the forefront of this move, par­ticularly in the past two decades. The vast majority of the priests in the Province are non-stipendiary (a reflection of the stark economic realities). Many would be considered ill-equipped for the ordained ministry in other areas, educationally at least. Not one of the presbyters among the indigenous people of Northern Argentina has secondary school educa­tion—not even the bishop! Training programmes by extension were developed (many of which have now been translated into other languages, including English), to enable people to study and work at the same time (these were fully outlined in the original Chile Document). So the Province can hardly be accused of reserve in this area, particularly when compared to ‘First World’ Anglicans. Why then do the dioceses involved not simply ordain more priests?

It is difficult for the church in the UK to imagine a situation where new congregations are constantly being formed, as, for example, where the relatively new diocese of Peru with Bolivia grew from just one congrega­tion to over 20 in 12 years. Even where growth is taking place in the Church of England, it is generally within the framework of an existing con­gregation which includes people who have been Christians for a number of years, have received considerable instruction in the faith and shown maturity of discipleship over a long period of time. In new congregations, particularly in more remote areas, this may not be the case at all. Our own experience in Bolivia was of seeing a congregation grow rapidly to fifty or so people, yet none had been Christians more than two years.

However, reservation for the purpose of adoration of Christ in the sacra­ment or for transfer outside the normal eucharistic fellowship seems to move far beyond the concept of consecration and communion as a single act. ‘This is an unreformed practice which strikes at the root of all that a celebration of communion is meant to be’, says the Bishop of Manchester in a letter to the Church Times (19 Oct. 1984).

Yet again we are in the area of inferred theology. If the sacrament is reser­ved, what does this imply about the presence of Christ? Despite much pro­gress in our understanding of anamnesis, it surely gives the elements a mystical (if not magical) significance we may not wish to imply and sug­gests a mechanical conveyancing of grace independent of the whole eucharistic act, which must include right reception (cf. 1 Cor. 11.27ff) and eucharistic living (cf. Rom. 12.1 and note the comments of the Quakers and Salvation Army in reply to BEM).’ There appears to be some­thing of an ecumenical ‘fudge factor’ operative on this point in a number of texts, the only solution to which would be to hold together consecration and reception as a single act, both conceptually and in time (another point stressed by the Bishop of Manchester in his letter to the Church Times, mentioned above.)

The practice which receives widest support is that of ordaining local priests. One wonders, reading some of the replies to HUMA, whether people have properly understood the document, for that is central to its purpose. In fact the Cono Sur has been at the forefront of this move, par­ticularly in the past two decades. The vast majority of the priests in the Province are non-stipendiary (a reflection of the stark economic realities). Many would be considered ill-equipped for the ordained ministry in other areas, educationally at least. Not one of the presbyters among the indigenous people of Northern Argentina has secondary school educa­tion—not even the bishop! Training programmes by extension were developed (many of which have now been translated into other languages, including English), to enable people to study and work at the same time (these were fully outlined in the original Chile Document). So the Province can hardly be accused of reserve in this area, particularly when compared to ‘First World’ Anglicans. Why then do the dioceses involved not simply ordain more priests?

It is difficult for the church in the UK to imagine a situation where new congregations are constantly being formed, as, for example, where the relatively new diocese of Peru with Bolivia grew from just one congrega­tion to over 20 in 12 years. Even where growth is taking place in the Church of England, it is generally within the framework of an existing con­gregation which includes people who have been Christians for a number of years, have received considerable instruction in the faith and shown maturity of discipleship over a long period of time. In new congregations, particularly in more remote areas, this may not be the case at all. Our own experience in Bolivia was of seeing a congregation grow rapidly to fifty or so people, yet none had been Christians more than two years. This does     not exclude opportunity for growth in discipleship and the taking of responsibility in the life of the church, but experience shows that it is not generally sufficient time to prove a person’s call to the ordained ministry, which implies lifelong commitment.

The New Testament certainly offers little help as to who should preside at the eucharist.

The Theological Commission itself pointed to a number of other issues, in particular the need to describe more clearly the South American context, especially the role, and often elitist status, of clergy in popular religion and the danger, by hastily ordaining priests, of producing second-class presbyters reduced to a cultic function.

The major arguments against the proposals were on the grounds of tradition: ‘Lay celebration…cuts at the root of Anglican for­mularies, practice and history, and would isolate us from our whole catholic tradition’ (Archbishop of Dublin) or on the grounds of unity: ‘it would certainly be highly divisive within the Church of England and the rest of the Communion’ (Prov of Australia) (divisive, added others, such as Archbishop McAdoo, within ecumenical endeavours, too).

The only rationale seems defence of the status quo, a premise expressly rejected in the Anglican/Reformed dialogue on ministry: ‘Not all the developments of the past nineteen centuries are to be regarded as divinely sanctioned simply because they have occurred’)

These debates have happened before. Roland Allen, reflecting upon Scripture in the light of his own experience of Communion at home with his family, points to its relationship to the Passover, which is essentially a ‘family rite’ rather than a ‘temple rite’.’ He advocates knowledge gained from innovative practice reflected upon for a long time and in different places. Thus he greatly prefers the model of family communion, defined essentially by the relationships of the participants rather than structures and formularies, which make for ‘an individualistic act’.

William Temple, in his address to the Manchester Diocesan Conference in 1928, stated: We must, I believe, come to the conclusion that … any lay­man who should devoutly and not defiantly decide that it is right for him to celebrate the Holy Communion would effect a real consecration and through it the real gift would be given. There is nothing, so to speak, in the nature of things which makes it impossible for any but priests to celebrate and administer a real sacrament’.

At the Anglican Congress of 1963 by Canon F. Synge of New Zealand, another High Churchman. Asking if the ministry in the church were structurally fitted for its changing task, he suggested that one of the greatest obstacles was the entrenchment of the clergy in a position of privilege and of pro­fessional indispensability (something which merits serious evaluation). Arguing for lay presidency in exceptional cases he begins not with the community but with the bishop. ‘Every Eucharist is a Bishop’s Eucharist’, his ; authority to preside being delegated to his presbyters…. If the Bishop can delegate his authority to presbyters (lifelong delegation), why not to lay people (temporary del­egation)?

In the 1970’s at St John’s Theological College, Nottingham, there was a definite swing away from ‘excep­tional circumstances’, such as an interregnum, to arguing for lay pre­sidency in a variety of situations, including tutorial groups (some of which were led by ordained ministers, some by lay tutors), home groups, occasional groups such as at conferences, the sick and housebound, and where there is only one minister for several centres of worship.

One of the arguments against lay presidency has been on the grounds of problems in the ecumenical dialogue. However, whilst such a move would be currently unacceptable to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies, it would put Anglicans in line with some other traditions. For example, the United Reformed Church allows lay presidency in situations of ‘pastoral necessity. dispensation is given by Conference and is regarded as ‘temporary ordination’, though there is no laying on of hands.

However, perhaps the strongest proponents of lay presidency, from a theological point of view at least, come from amongst Roman Catholics. This may well be because their shortage of priests, not helped by the requirement of celibacy, has reached dire proportions. Boff estimates that in Brazil there are 1.8 priests for every 10,000 faithful! Schille­beeckx notes that lay presidency was allowed in exceptional cir­cumstances by Tertullian. His argument centres around the fact that ‘the -ancient … and the modern church cannot envisage any Christian com­munity without the celebration of the eucharist’, pointing to the “essen­tial link between ecclesia and eucharist”. He is convinced that the ‘so-called shortage of priests” exists because of a wrong ecclesiology and view of ministry.

Leonardo Boff wrote about communities in Brazil, where many celeb­rations of the ‘Lord’s Supper” already take place, presided over by lay community leaders for want of priests. They ask: ‘what is the theological value of our celebrations?”.He relates it to the parallel question for Catholics: what is the value of Protestant celebrations?. His answer focuses again on the question of ecclesiology.

Looking at both the New Testament and Church history, he is not alone in noting the bond between presidency of community and presidency of the eucharist. ‘The basic rule in ancient Christianity was: whoever presides over the community, be his title bishop, presbyter, prophet, leader or confessor, presides ex officio at the eucharist as well”. Furthermore, the celebration is not that of the celebrant alone but of the whole community, which has an ‘inalienable right to celebrate the eucharist. The president of the community is also involved in preaching, admonition, upbuilding, and direction, being selected by the community and accepted by other communities and the bishop. He sees this pattern as normative in the first millenium until the growth of canon law, authority without connection to the community and the creation of clergy benefices, amongst other factors, led to a privatized, ontological ecclesiology.

Boff affirms that apostolic succession is about keeping the apostolic faith, not about laying on of hands. Thus he accepts the validity of protestant church eucharist and ministry. (cf The Papal Bull of 1 896: ‘Ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been and are absolutely null and utterly void”).

The author suggests that it is worth asking, if those proposing lay presidency are not linked by churchmanship or theological persusion, is there any bond that unites them? Perhaps it is their experience on the frontiers of mission and their definition of the theological task, which Boff describes as ‘seeking out adequate answers to new and urgent problems’. ‘The deposit of faith’ he says, is not ‘a stagnant cistern’ but ‘springs of living water’. It is against this background that a universal pattern of leadership, the three fold ordained ministry, began to emerge as an essentially pragmatic solution to ensure order, sound teaching, mission and the preservation of unity in the church. The practical rediscovery of the priesthood of all believers was central to the Reformation. Eastwood suggests that for Luther it ‘underlies the whole of his teaching’) Note his famous phrase ‘every shoemaker can be a priest of God’. Calvin emphasized its dependence on and derivation from Christ’s priesthood. It was no good knocking the medieval priesthood in the name of the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’. It was first necessary to establish the priesthood of Christ, in which all are invited to share. However, in practice, the educated ministers still did ‘nearly all the minis­try’, ‘a sociological feature of bourgeois Christianity’. It is worth pointing out that it is not necessary to hold a view of a separate ministerial priesthood in order to maintain a high view of the Eucharist, since, as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (the Lima document) affirms, it is Christ who invites us to His meal at which He himself presides. This may serve to explain the significant number of High Churchmen and Roman Catholics who support lay presidency.

It is not possible here to speak in detail about a theology of the Eucharist, but Hanson’s statement about whether God will respond to prayer and bless the elements focuses once again the attention on the status of the priest rather than on the celebration as an act of the whole community which he represents.

For those who still find the thought unpalatable, perhaps they would care to demonstrate theologically the essential link between presidency of Holy Communion and ministerial priesthood, given that baptisms, preach­ing and teaching (which many would regard as potentially more damaging to unity than eucharistic presidency), as well as other areas of ministry, are regularly undertaken by deacons and lay people. ‘Priest’, ‘mediator’ and ‘go between’ are emotive terms theologically. It may be preferable to seek less ambiguous words. By ‘mediator’ Hanson seems to mean something nearer to the prophet who speaks for God and prays to God for the people. There are at least two ways of seeing a ‘mediator’—as someone who stands in the way and restricts access except through himself, or as someone who brings parties together and facilitates their direct relationship with each other. The former marks an abuse of priesthood not unknown in the history of the church (and still common in South America). The latter we would wish to affirm. Yet we are left with the question, why can a lay person ‘mediate Christ in preaching and pastoral care but not in the eucharist.

In the ordained ministry we see developing historically a great deal of emphasis on the status of the minister, whether an ontological change takes place, and what happens when hands are laid on an ordi­nand with the invocation of the Spirit, rather than the relationships that are being entered into or confirmed, between the local community on the one hand, and the wider church, represented by the bishop, on the other. For the presbyter, it is surely the communion he enjoys with, and which is officially recognized by, both parties which provides the basis for his authority, which is not separate from his responsibility to both.

Universality would be maintained because the commun­ity would be in fellowship with the bishop through the licensed the lay leader, who would provide an adequate focus of unity at the Eucharist.

See also https://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/lay-presidency-at-the-eucharist-benedict-green-c-r/
And https://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/lay-presidency-at-the-eucharist-t-lloyd/

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