October 27, 2008

Futureworld in Sydneyland

The Sydney Synod has approved in principle the ideas of diaconal and lay presidency at the Holy Communion, suggesting a delay in implementation for laity but a sooner licensing for deacons, including women deacons. This has created, as perhaps an unintentional consequence, some concern among the more catholic conservative allies with Sydney against the liberal-trending spectrum of the Anglican Communion.

I have no difficulty understanding the extreme protestant position on this score — it has been well spelled out in terms of the priesthood of all believers, the lack of scriptural clarity on the subject, the fact that deacons can baptize so why can’t they celebrate, and so on and so forth. I also have no difficulty understanding the practical implications, and the needs of isolated or small communities. On neither of these do I find the arguments persuasive, but I do find them comprehensible.

What I find hard to understand is how any who so pride themselves in the 1662 BCP and Ordinal and Articles of Religion can adopt a position so at odds with the limpid clarity of their requirements, and what they present as a model for what it means to “minister in the Church.” The Articles demand that no one minister without being called; and the calling of a deacon is well spelled out to be (at most) an assistant in the ministrations limited to priests — also clearly listed in the order for making them. To read, as the current move has it, assists in as presides at seems to be an example of eisegesis at its most wishful and contrary. And this doesn’t even get into the murkiness of what it means for a lay person to “minister” (in the fulsome sense in which the classical documents use the term) — since as Richard Norris once said, a lay person authorized by a bishop to preside at the eucharist is properly called “a priest.”

So the issue for me — quite apart from my opposition to the move on other grounds — is the logical inconsistency of taking steps so at odds with sources of authority that are brandished in other controversies as touchstones of stability for the emerging Anglican Communion 2.0.

Perhaps this is just the beta.

Tobias Haller BSG

Update: See further at More on Sydney


Doorman-Priest said...

I can't help but think you are right. It seems a very contrary principle to espouse.

James said...

I agree with you, Tobias.

But they will never unilaterally implement this until they have the general consensus of the whole AC, of course. Because what happens in one province must be affects all provinces. :)

Erika Baker said...

I would love you to explain in a little more depth what problems you have with this. You say you find the proponents' arguments not persuasive but you do not explain why.

Just because something hasn't been done before, or something is not within the current definition of "calling" for a Deacon, does not nececessarily mean it is theologically impossible.

On TA someone explained that initially the Eucharist was the domain of the bishop only. Later, when congregations had grown and Christianity had spread there were not enough bishops to go round, and so the bishops were allowed to confer the authority to celebrate to priests.

Why is it theologically impossible to extend that principle once again and to include Deacons in the line of people who are directly authorised by priests or bishops?

Tobias Haller said...


The difficulty I have with the idea of extending the traditional license to celebrate the eucharist to deacons is complex, but you've hit on a primary point. The parish priesthood was basically invented to be what you describe: the local rep for the bishop, who is the proper celebrant for the eucharist, and who delegates that to the presbyter. The presbyterate and the episcopate are really a merged ministry in the apostolic era, and only get teased apart as the church begins to grow. But the one thing they have in common is the ministry of presiding.

The diaconate, on the other hand, is not a ministry of presidency -- which is not to devalue it, but to see it for what it is. (The apostolic division is really between "supervisors" -- a literal translation of "bishop" -- and "workers" -- a useful way to think of deacons.)

Each order has its proper work -- not, I add, by necessity, or really by theological principle, but becuase that is how it has evolved. If I can use an analogy that is not really all that far from the mark, the bishop (and in the bishop's place, the presbyter) is like the cook at a restaurant; the deacon is the waiter. Both jobs are important in any successful restaurant, and there is no suggestion that such an establishment can function well without both -- so this isn't about hierarchy but specialization. If would of course be _possible_ for a waiter to become a cook, and no doubt many make their start in the restaurant trade in just that way -- just as in fact many deacons do become priests (and another aspect of the tradition under assault demands that priests have served as deacons).

But I don't see this as a theological matter at all -- rather it is a question of good order and discipline. Nor do I believe it to be "impossible" but "unnecessary" -- and, more importantly for the essay at hand -- contradictory to the sources the Sydneyites otherwise elevate as unifying principles. There are many Christian traditions that do not have a ministerial priesthood, and are quite happy to celebrate the Lords Supper in any number of ways. So it is far from "impossible" theologically. But if one is going to depart from a tradition, there should be good reasons advanced for it -- and the ones I've seen from Sydney either depart from Anglicanism into a kind of Church of the Brethren ecclesiology, or confuse the differences between Baptism and the Eucharist. It has also been suggested by some in the know that the whole thing is a way to avoid the ordination of women -- note that women deacons licensed under this new policy would only exercise this new ministry among women and children. (Sydney takes a "biblical" view that "a woman is not to teach" grown men, and may only minister to other women or children.) As a long time supporter of the ordination of women, I don't like seeing it delayed by subterfuge.

Joe Rawls said...

Apparently, in many Sydney churches the piece of furniture upon which the Eucharist--excuse me, the Lord's Supper--is celebrated is called the "Holy Table", because "altar" is pagan. If they insist on living in the 16th century, why not rename themselves Calvinland?

Anonymous said...

I know we in Sydney have a monolithic reputation to uphold, but like your diocese or province, the closer it is observed the more variety it here is to see. So women preach at many Sydney churches each Sunday. While the archbishop adopts a "headship" view he licenses women preachers (to mixed congregations), and I suspect that women would administer communion in the same way.
One argument for diaconal administration of communion is the number of church plants that are happening here. Many are led by deacons or lay people.
Ultimately this argument may come down to nomenclature. Sydney reserves the presbyterate for incumbents. So people who would be called priests in some dioceses are deacons here. People who might be some sort of local priests (eg in Nth Michigan) may (one day) be called lay-people authorised-tp- administer-communion, here.

Obadiah Slope / John Sandeman

Kevin M said...

One reason that's sometimes given for lay/diaconal presidency is a shortage of priests. Now, I could understand that in some diocese in the Australian Outback, but this is Sydney we're talking about. Are we really to believe that there's such a shortage of priests (or whatever term the Sydney Puritans prefer) that congregations are being deprived of the Eucharist for long periods of time? (Btw, does anyone know about the frequency of the celebration of the Eucharist in Sydney? Is it every week, once a month, quarterly?)

it's margaret said...

There is a technique in archaeological observations and other disciplines to look for "what is missing."

--Perhaps this is what is happening in these circumstances... Perhaps the seeming disregard of the Traditional Holy Orders in Sydney is actually symptomatic of something else---not the employment of progressive theology about the priesthood of all or an end-run toward ordination for some; but instead the urge to move toward lay presidency has to do with oppressive clericalism. Lay presidency may be a reaction to something negative rather than a move toward something else.

Or perhaps this is beta...

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the additional comments, esp. from Obadiahslope, who offers first hand correctives to the word I'd rec'd from others Down Under. It is good to have the right and left hands both contributing to a balanced picture! It is especially good to know that in spite of the Male Headship issues, there is at least some acknowledgment that women too have heads on their shoulders. (Why is it, by the way, that Protestants historically seem to give so much more weight to Paul than to Jesus, at least as far as teaching goes? Jesus seems to have been quite content with having women serve as his messengers and Gospel-bearers; it is only with Paul that we find all of this obsession with the Fall, and Eve's role in it, no?)

That being said, it is also interesting to hear that presbyters are incumbents only -- here in the US, of course, we do have "rectors" as well as "vicars" (such as yours truly) who serve full-time and receive their stipend either from parish or diocese; but then there is a broad mix of priests-in-charge, interims, part-time -- and at the low end, "supply" -- where a church limps along with a priest who shows up only for a few hours on Sunday: which I regard as a disastrous solution to the difficulties in which some parishes find themselves.

I'm inclined to think that this is, after all, at least in part a matter of terminology, given what R Norris noted about lay people authorized to celebrate the eucharist. Still, I think there is some Low Church militancy at least, and Calvinism at most, behind the Sydney position -- a healthy does of anti-clericalism, as Margaret suggests. Still, I would prefer the "local priest" option in earnest. This is no novelty, really -- the RC church had "priests simplex" for years -- usually men who it turned out after some preparation and seminary just didn't quite "cut it" academically, but were not dumped entirely from the process, and were ordained with certain faculties reserved.

Finally, I do think it important to repeat that question about the frequency of eucharistic celebration in the first place -- since that is the real sticking point. Even in the US thirty years ago, churches with Holy Communion only twice a month were not uncommon. I would think the Sydney-mentality would be content with the Office and a rousing sermon. And deacons often make fine preachers.

Christopher said...

I will note with the same interest I made in my own post. The lack of development of an understanding of the laity lays at the root of many of these problems. Look how we all tend to go about discussing the ministries of the bishop, the priest, and the deacon and can offer quite a lot of theological tit-for-tat, but the laity quietly drop away from the discussion.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Christopher. I think you have hit one of the nails on the head in your post -- the tendency to "honor the laity" primarily by ordaining them; instead of uncovering the real ministry of the laity, which has far greater scope than that of the clerics. (This is a fairly frequent theme of my preaching, btw.)

One of my reasons for this approach, which may seem apparent even in this present short commentary on Sydney, is that I tend to see the ordained ministry almost entirely in terms of function rather than ontology. All that stuff about indelibility and character is o.k. for those interested in such things, but they emerge from much later discussions about the nature of sacraments, and have little to do with ministry as ministering. (I went on about this a good bit in my presentations to the deacons a few weeks back.)

So for me the idea of taking functions that work quite well with a set "staff" of people equipped for those functions, and parceling them out willy nilly (well, maybe not willy nilly, as I suppose some care will be taken) just doesn't seem to make sense. It is, in its own way, like the Cultural Revolution, and with a similarly wrong-headed notion of equality that fails to recognize that there are charisms which equip some individuals for tasks which are best carried out by those who are able to do them. There is more to the presbyterate than celebrating and presiding, and even if those tasks are separable there is a historic linkage between the office of teacher and leader (the bishop/presbyter) that distinguishes it from the office of deacon (as servant and proclaimer) and the ministry of the laity, which is primarily not sitting in the pew but getting about the work of the church in the world.

WSJM said...

Tobias --

You said, "I tend to see the ordained ministry almost entirely in terms of function rather than ontology." I think I would lean a bit more heavily on the ontological dimension of ordination, though that raises the philosophical question of the relation between function and ontology. (!) But I think your basic point is well taken. Lots of folks make a Big Hairy Deal of the indelibility of holy orders without actually being very clear about what that might mean.

The issue came up over at Thinking Anglicans a few days ago in relation to the deposition of (ex-)Bishop Duncan. I threw a couple of coins into the fountain by pointing out that he is NOT "still a bishop," at least not in any meaningful (functional) sense. (A bishop may be a bishop for the whole church, but her/his episcopacy is subject to the canons of the church in which she/he was consecrated. We might note that the numerical majority of Catholic Christendom does not recognize the orders of Bob Duncan, or of Tobias Haller, or of Bill Moorhead. Not our problem. If some Anglican or purported Anglican bishop somewhere else wants to recognize Bob Duncan as a bishop, that's his problem; it's a violation of order.)

To my point (finally!): The Episcopal Church officially recognizes the indelibility of holy orders (without using the word, as far as I know) in that if a cleric who has renounced her/his orders or been deposed from her/his orders subsequently wishes to be reinstated, and having been appropriately re-examined, that cleric may be reinstated to ordained ministry, but is not re-ordained. (Likewise an episcopally ordained cleric coming to TEC from another communion may be received, but is not re-ordained.) That's a pragmatic (or functional!) understanding of the ontology of holy orders, and I think it's sufficient. Holy-Orders-Mysticism may have some spiritual value, but can easily be pushed too far. A deposed priest is a once-and-(maybe)future priest, but is not a now-priest.

I also quite agree that TEC's provision for "local priests" -- originally devised in Alaska, I think but subsequently adopted in many other dioceses, and I have known a lot of these "local priests" and they are good priests -- is the right and genuinely catholic response to the need for more people to minister as Eucharistic presidents. Sydney obviously has their theology of ministry all screwed up. Surprise, surprise.

Bill Moorhead

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks Bill. On the ontology issue that's about where I come down, and for similar canonical as opposed to theological reasons. I was about to comment over at TA in the same thread to which you refer, that people are deposed from "ministry and not order" -- but actually our canons include (to my way of thinking in error) both words. I think, in short, it is the ministry from which one is deposed, not the order; or as the RC canons say, "the clerical state" rather than the order. In the long run this may be a mere battle over words, if in fact it is only the function that is in question. It is, to some extent, like the old question about the tree falling with no one to hear it making any sound. It all depends upon what you mean by "sound" and "hear" etc.

Geoff said...

Someone on Ship of Fools commented that the Jensenite position on the presbyterate is more ontological than any other. If even celebration of the Eucharist can be divorced from the priesthood, if women can do everything that priests do in other dioceses as long as they don't have the title, then the presbyterate is really all about being rather than doing.

Marshall said...

I find myself making a distinction between ontology and indelibility, reflecting the sense that the distinction among the orders of ministry is largely a matter of function. I wonder if many (if not most) of those who speak of ontology either don't really mean it or don't understand it. If my ontology were changed in my ordination (either of them), arguably I would not longer be human. On the other hand, that the Spirit might mark me in some way distinguishable only to God, but designating a particular role, for which I was empowered by a special charism, affirms that God can work in and through my humanity. Thus, an "indelible mark" affirms the Incarnation; while an "ontological change" denies it (or at least undermines our understanding of it).

esteemed obadiah, you are often helpful in understanding terms. If the Americans and the British are divided by a common language, how much more true that might be for communication with Aussies. How is the term "incumbent" used here? My initial response was to its American use: the person in place at the time, but who might subsequently be replaced. A rector would be considered "incumbent" until he took a new position; but "incumbent" wouldn't apply to a position in itself.

The church has struggled for some time with non-normative programs for educating clergy (seminary being normative). The intent of the canons are currently to have them be equivalent to seminary, or near enough; but my own observations have been of mixed results. I have seen programs of reading for orders (surely a well established model) that were well designed and rigorous, and programs that were slipshod. I have seen clergy educated in such programs who were truly equivalent to seminary graduates, and some who just didn't have good familiarity with their tradition or their tools (the difference being more dependent on the commitment and energy of the student than of the inherent rigor of the program). I hope we can maintain appropriate education and rigor on our preparation for our various functions, without being bound only to the residential denominational seminary.

Christopher said...

I actually tend to think not in functionality or in ontology, but in relationship, and think those two categories have tended to miss what actually connects them because we think of being as some sort of substance rather than mutually arising from/out of relationship within the Body and to our God.

The person who serves the Body as a presbyter is in a specific relationship with the rest of the Body, having been set aside due to gifts for the particular ministry of presbyter.

Which is not to say that function and ontology do not have a part in such a way of thinking, it's rather that a certain way of being (ontology) is so from a certain relationship within the Body (set aside) for this ministry (function) due to gifts and calling according to the Holy Spirit.

Functionalism has tended to imply any person could be a presbyter if needs be (the musical presbyter option) though even Luther makes clear one is set aside even in the in extremis scenario of the cut off band in the forest or on the desert island.

Ontologism has tended to substantialize something that is set within the context of relationships to the Persons Three and the persons of the Body.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks Marshall, and Christopher. As a "process guy" I tend to find ontology rather suspect, and only brought it up here because it is the buzzword that usually comes up in these discussions. Actually, as C suggests, relationship is really more important, in practical as well as philosophical terms. Apart from the canonical (being able to be reinstated if deposed) I don't really know what the indelibility or the ontology have to offer us. It is the relationship of a pastor (or "parson") to the congregation that is at issue. And I find the observation that Geoff notes from the SoF to be helpful in this light.

Anonymous said...

Geoff and Marshall,
Sydney is moving towards a permanent diaconate of men and women. The presbyterate will be restricted to those in charge of a parish, or considered by the Archbishop and his chaplains to be ready for that role. Thats how I used the term "incumbent" before, which in other places might technically be a rector, vicar or priest-in-charge. The interim rector role is unknown here.
One flaw in restricting the presbyterate to those in charge of a parish is that it limits access to holy communion, which is one reason diaconal administration is attractive. Church plants led by deacons or laity can have difficulty having regular access to holy communion. I heard of one church plant that went three years without it.
As I said before, we may be largely talking about terminology here. I would have thought there was little difference in function between a lay person licensed to administer communion and a local priest in some dioceses in TEC. But of course I could be wrong.
Obadiah Slope

Brian R said...

A lot of the discussion here is beyond me but I must comment on the only other response from within Sydney by Obadiah Slope. Women do preach in some churches each Sunday, generally those of a less evangelical bent. However in many churches especially those run by more recent graduates of Moore College, they are not even permitted to read the lesson. Archbishop Jensen is not the most extreme evangelical in the diocese unfortunately, his brother the Dean is an example.
And Sydney does not just reserve the presbyrate for incumbents. My church being a large city church has 2 (there were 3) salaried priests, only one is the rector. There is another priest who presides at one of the 3 Eucharists most Sundays. He is (or was, I think he may have retired last year) a school teacher. We have the regular assistance of 2 other priests who work in church mission organisations. I also have a friend who is ordained a priest (not in Sydney) but has never been an incumbent as he has spent most of his life as a school teacher. He is currently (also recently retired) working in a parish whose priest has moved to another diocese. Many of the church plants may be led by deacons as Sydney seems to be ordaining many who do not intend continuing to the priesthood (men as well as women). I do not understand why they cannot be ordained priests after the usual period of time even if they continue only as assistants in parishes. Of course there are also women working as deacons who would love to become priests and even a few who are priests from other dioceses but for family reasons forced to find work in Sydney as deacons.

Anonymous said...

While I see much merit in your general point, can I correct you on some matters of detail.
As I pointed out in the last post, Sydney is moving towards reserving the presbyterate for incumbents. This change only occurred two years ago and it will take time for its effect to be felt, especially in a large city parish like yours.
Evangelical churches, like South Coogee for example do have women preaching.
In all the evangelical Sydney churches I have attended, women read the lessons. Would you care to give some examples of churches where this is not the case - we could I guess ring up all the churches with a recent graduate of Moore.
I am not saying you are wrong, about some churches not letting women read the lesson, but that I would need to be convinced it is a widespread practise.

Obadiah Slope

Brian said...

The role of a presbyter is in his or her eldership. It does not consist in his or her authority to 'celebrate' the Eucharist. The scripture does not require any presidency at or celebration of the Eucharist but, rather, that it be done decently and in order, with understanding and faith.

To allow other believers (deacon or otherwise) to break the Eucharistic bread does not deny to presbyters their role as elders, teachers and shepherds of God's people.

Tobias Haller said...

Brian (I take it a different Brian),

What you say presents an interesting theory, but it runs counter to the Ordinal, which is rather specific about the role of the Presbyter in presiding at the ministration of the sacraments. You are quite right about the Scripture, however, being silent on the subject. It would be more helpful in your cause if you could point to any biblical text which showed any lay person or deacon presiding at the breaking of the bread. I am not aware of any such passage in Scripture, which usually portrays this action being led by Jesus or Paul. And Paul's description of the irregularities at the Corinthian love-feasts would appear to argue against the possible disorder caused by letting just anyone take charge.

I have, by the way, no objection, as it is allowed in the Ordinal, to see deacons and lay persons assist in the celebration -- but assisting is not presiding, and the Synod's reading of its own regulations does not meet the standard of interpreting the language as written.

Finally, another aspect of the problem is the attempt to divide leadership in the worshiping assembly from leadership in the role as teacher and pastor. This hardly seems wise, even if possible, and I think leads to the very kinds of disruptions that undermine decency and good order.

WSJM said...

I think Brian misses the point. A presbyter has the authority to preside at the Eucharist (ultimately at the delegation of the bishop) precisely because s/he is an elder of the community, typically _the_ elder of the local community. Despite much medieval theology, ordination to the priesthood is not primarily about conveying the magic whammy to confect the consecration of the elements. I believe it was Robert Hovda some years ago who made the point that the priest presides over the community's Eucharist because it is the priest who presides over the community's life and mission. Sydney errs (among other things) in separating liturgical leadership from general community leadership. It is telling that Sydney doesn't seem to care very much if a woman leads a Holy Communion service, so long as she doesn't lead the Church. Ironically, Sydney is caught in the old medieval notion of mass-priests.

Anonymous said...

In your last comment to Canberra-Brian (I think), you raise the issue of dividing leadership in the worshiping assembly from leadership in the role as teacher and pastor.
This is the heart of the argument FOR lay administration by its supporters in Sydney. They want each of the clergy in the congregation to be able to lead in communion, and preaching.
One solution would be to priest each of them, as you would in TEC.
In Sydney, the model will be one priest and several deacons (in a large parish), all preaching and leading in communion.
The difference is largely about nomenclature IMHO.
Obadiah Slope

Tobias Haller said...

I'm going to elevate this disucssion to a post...

WSJM said...

I hope we are clear that there should be no problem about the specific desired and chosen persons to exercise certain ministries. I do not doubt that the persons proposed to preside at Holy Communion, currently apparently deacons or lay persons, are fit candidates for that ministry. The question is how that ministry is to be identified and ordered. Community and liturgical presidency has for most of the church's history been understood as ministry of presbyters. ("That's what presbyters do.") The diaconate has been understood (particularly in recent years with the restoration of a vocational diaconate both in Anglican and Roman churches) as primarily a ministry of service. ("That's why it's called diakonia.") I disagree with Obadiah that it's just about nomenclature. To claim that a parish priest and his (!) deacons in Sydney is the same thing as a rector and his/her associate priests in the US or the UK is a misuse of language and of order.

(Actually, it sounds to me like the Sydney plan to reserve the presbyterate to incumbents is actually a re-creation, but with the nomenclature all screwed up, of the very ancient pattern of local churches which were led by a bishop, a board of presbyters, and a staff of deacons. How cool! Every parish incumbent gets to be a bishop! I find this pretty spooky, and I don't want to go there! I suppose the current bishops get to be Metropolitans. How nice for them.

By the way, and only slightly off-topic, I hope: I am opposed to ordaining candidates to the priesthood per saltum. I suppose it would be valid, but I think it's a Very Bad Idea. Servanthood is the foundation of all Christian ministry (including that of the laity), and priests and bishops need to know and feel that they were deacons first. It's not quite clear to me what the ministry of deacons in Sydney is. It sounds like it's largely "assistant presbyter," but OCICBW. We've been there, done that, got over it.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks Bill. I think you were picking up some of the same ancient church history I was -- as you'll see in the promoted post.

liturgy said...

Thanks for this discussion.
I've just put in my two cents worth at
I'm not going to repeat my points here. You'll see it's already long enough ;-)