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Sydney allows deacons to administer Communion, on a point of grammar: CEN 10.31.08 p 5. October 30, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Ecclesiology, Hymnody/Liturgy.

The Diocese of Sydney’s Synod has reaffirmed its longstanding support for diaconal administration of Holy Communion.

However, the adoption of Resolution 7.2 “Lay and diaconal administration” leaves the diocesan canons intact and creates no new laws: the licensing of Eucharistic ministers remains in the hands of Sydney’s Archbishop, Dr. Peter Jensen. The Synod vote affirmed the legal principal enacted last year by the Anglican Church of Australia’s highest court, which held that the language of a canon, not the legislative intent in its creation, provides its meaning.

The plain meaning of the current canons of the Australian Church already provide for diaconal celebration, Synod concluded—however, the ban on lay celebration remains in effect.

The Oct 21 vote is the latest step in a 25 year push for lay and diaconal presidency in Sydney. Adopted by an overwhelming majority, Resolution 7.2 accepted a report on the current state of canon law on diaconal and lay presidency prepared by a committee led by North Sydney Bishop Glenn Davies; affirmed Synod’s “conviction that lay and diaconal administration of the Lord’s Supper is consistent with the teaching of Scripture” and affirmed that the “Lord’s Supper in this diocese may be administered by persons other than presbyters.”

In presenting the resolution for consideration Bishop Davies said it would not “make law or change law” but would “merely express” Synod’s view on this issue.

Legal authority already existed for deacons to celebrate the Eucharist, Bishop Davies’ committee report argued. In 1997, the church’s highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, ruled that deacons or lay people could administer Holy Communion so long as General Synod authorized the practice.

The Davies committee concluded that the Ordination Service for Deacons Canon passed by General Synod in 1985 and subsequently adopted by all of Australia’s dioceses gave this permission.

In the reformed 1985 Ordinal, bishops charge deacons to be “be faithful in prayer, and take your place with bishop, priest and people in public worship and at the administration of the sacraments.”

In his question to the diaconal candidates for ordination, the bishop asks “Will you take your part in reading the Holy Scriptures in the church, in teaching the doctrine of Christ, and in administering the sacraments?”

And in his authorization of the new deacon the bishop states, “receive this sign of your authority to proclaim God’s word and to assist in the administration of his holy sacraments.”

These three portions of the 1985 ordination service “expressly authorizes the deacon to assist the priest in the administration of the sacraments,” the committee said. The immediate effect of the 1985 ordinal change had been to permit deacons to baptize and preach without recourse to prior permission from their bishop. The word “assistance equally applies to Holy Communion as it applies to baptism; and there is no dispute that a deacon can administer baptism in its entirety,” the Davies paper said.

“It is therefore competent for the Archbishop of Sydney to license a deacon to assist the priest in the administration of Holy Communion as well as baptism, if the deacon has been ordained in accordance with the schedule of the 1985 Canon,” the Davies committee concluded.

Given this interpretation of the canons Bishop Davies told Synod, there is “nothing the Archbishop can do to prevent a deacon administering the Lord’s Supper”.

However, “it would require a bishop’s license” for a lay person to administer Communion, he said. And Dr. Jensen “will not license a lay person at this time.”

The question of lay and diaconal presidency at the Eucharist has been a topic of debate for over a generation, with the first committee chartered to examine the issue in 1983.

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 of the Anglican Church of Australia, 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. Archbishop Goodhew wrote that following the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he had joined other church leaders working to block “unilateral action over crucial moral issues and attendant theological norms. To act unilaterally myself and without wide consultation would undermine my credibility in those ongoing debates,” he said.

Mindful that “Synod has delivered a clear verdict” in favor of lay presidency, Archbishop Goodhew said he was inclined not to support the Ordinance in light of the tribunal’s ruling. He had to consider his “constitutional responsibilities” to the wider church, he said, adding that “as a bishop I have both the right and the duty to accept the opinion of the body established by this Church for giving an opinion on such an issue. This opinion cannot be taken lightly.”

Following his election as Archbishop in 2001, in his Presidential Address to Synod Dr. 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 as it applied to the diocese. A vestige of the diocese’s Church of England roots, Section 10 stated that “only episcopally ordained priests may consecrate the Holy Communion.”

In light of the Appellate Tribunal’s 2007 decision finding a right to the ordination of women to the episcopate within the existing canons of the Anglican Church of Australia even though this right was not envisioned when the language of the canons was drafted, the Davies committee stated a precedent had been set that set aside the notion of legislative intent in the interpretation of church canons.

The Appellate Tribunal had “expressed the view that legislation is to be interpreted by the meaning of the words used and not on the basis of any supposed intention of the promoters of legislation,” the Davies committee observed. If doctrine could be developed by resort to grammar in the case of women bishops, such a tool could not logistically be denied to diaconal presidency at the Eucharist, it noted.


1. Tobias Haller - November 2, 2008

It struck me immediately that the difference between “assist in” and “preside at” are two very different things. Thanks for noting this.

2. Tobias Haller - November 2, 2008

… and apologies for the twisted grammar! I should have omitted “the difference between” — T

3. Bosco Peters - November 8, 2008

My reflection on this development is here:

4. Review: The Lord’s Supper in Human Hands « Journeyman - March 16, 2011

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