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Sydney synod backs lay presidency of the Eucharist: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 22, 2010 p 8. October 23, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Ecclesiology.
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Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Sydney’s diocesan synod has reaffirmed its support for diaconal administration of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, for the fourth time.

By a strong voice vote, the synod adopted on Oct 15 a resolution proposed by Bishop Glenn Davies of North Sydney that said while it noted the “advisory opinion of the Appellate Tribunal” synod reaffirmed its 2008 declaration that “lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper is consistent with the teaching of Scripture,” and that “affirms that the Lord’s Supper in this diocese may be administered by persons other than presbyters.”

The vote follows in the wake of an August 10, 2010 opinion that ruled the 1985 Ordination for Deacons Canon did not permit diaconal administration of the Eucharist.  Unlike the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and other churches that have reintroduced the permanent diaconate, in Sydney deacons and priests obtain the same level of theological qualification. As of the start of synod, 36 per cent of the clergy in Sydney, 215, were deacons.

In an account of the debate printed by Anglican Media Sydney, Dr. Davies opened the debate by stating that it was permissible for synod and the Appellate Tribunal to hold contrary opinions on this issue, adding the language of the resolution was permissive, not mandatory.  “There is a lot of power in the word ‘may’,” administer the sacrament, he said.

Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett stated there was no Scriptural warrant for the argument that only priests may administer Holy Communion, adding that it was “pastorally appropriate that deacons who are chaplains in schools, prisons and hospitals be allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper.”

Three amendments that sought to soften the resolution were defeated, as was a motion to defer discussion, and the resolution was carried.

The August tribunal ruling came under criticism during the debate, with speakers deriding the theological rationale used by a majority of the court to reach its decision.  The tribunal also up-ended the legal principle that it had used to permit women bishops in 2007, prompting concerns its deliberations were tainted by political considerations.

In ruling against diaconal presidency, the tribunal in 2010 held that it is not the language of a canon, but the legislative intent in its creation that provides its meaning.

In its 2007 ruling the court came to an opposite conclusion, finding that while women bishops were not contemplated in the drafting of the canons governing the episcopate, its language could be construed to allow the innovation.

The Sydney synod vote is the latest step in a 30 year push for lay and diaconal presidency with the first committee chartered to examine the issue in 1983.   In 2008 the synod adopted by an overwhelming majority, Resolution 7.2 which contained the same language on lay and diaconal presidency as found in the 2010 resolution.

A report prepared by a committee led by Bishop Paul Barnett in 1993 concluded there “are no sound doctrinal objections to, and there are significant doctrinal reasons for, lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper.  There are also sound reasons based on our received Anglican order for allowing lay presidency.”

The Barnett committee concluded that “prohibition of lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper does not seem justifiable theologically.”

On Oct 19, 1999 Sydney adopted an Ordinance permitting diaconal and lay presidency at the Eucharist, by a vote of 122 to 66 amongst the clergy, and 224 to 128 amongst the laity.

However, the following day the Primate, Archbishop Keith Rayner, urged Sydney Archbishop Harry Goodhew to withhold his assent writing the vote represented a “fundamental break with catholic order” which would place the diocese at odds with the “constitution and canons of our church.”

On Nov 10, 1999 Archbishop Goodhew declined to give his assent as approving lay presidency would have ramifications for Sydney and the wider Anglican Communion.  Following his election as Archbishop in 2001, Dr. Peter Jensen said, “Lay administration, should it be legal, would be a contribution to the common task of bringing the gospel to Australia,” adding that “it is strange not to allow for this ministry in an ordered way.”

In 2003 the Sydney Synod began the legal steps to clear the path for diaconal administration, rescinding Section 10 of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, which stated that “only episcopally ordained priests may consecrate the Holy Communion.”

However, Dr. Jensen has never authorized lay administration, and last week’s vote does not compel him to do so.

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