November 3, 2008

More on Sydney

A number of important comments on the Sydney lay / diaconal presidency have been made below in response to my last post, and I'd like to elevate some of the discussion to this level.

Brian commented:

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.

and I responded,

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.

Obadiah Slope posted this comment:

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.

I'm grateful for Obadiah's comment, but I'm afraid I still don't understand the rationale. I've also been forced to reexamine the Scriptural side of the discussion, and want to add a bit more there.

The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is the failure to accept the biblical basis for leadership in terms of both office and order -- bishops and elders are called to a ministry of leadership, pastorship, teaching and in the ministration of the sacraments. There is no indication of diaconal or lay presidency at the eucharist in Scripture, as far as I can see; and as I noted earlier, the disorders of Corinth seem to argue for greater regulation, not less.

Deacons are called to another ministry entirely, as the Ordinal makes clear. But this goes not just for the Ordinal but the Scripture; even in the pastoral epistles there is a clear distinction between those who are called to lead and those called to other ministries. Or if I'm missing something, where is it?

Sydney's action seems to be based on a quibblesome reading of a canon, concerning deacons assisting in ministration of the sacraments, and the provision for deacons to administer baptism.

Equating baptism and eucharist is a strange thing to do; though both are sacraments, baptism is essentially personal (though it involves the congregation) while the eucharist is by definition communal (though it involves the individual). The ministrations themselves differ profoundly. As I've noted, in our tradition lay persons can administer emergency baptism. The Roman Catholics go further and allow emergency baptism by a non-Christian, but they don't allow a non-Roman Christian even to receive communion (with rare exceptions), much less celebrate it. So the Sydney position seems to have elevated a Red Herring to the level of doctrine.

Further, and equally problematic, is the historical dimension: having a single presbyter surrounded by deacons would be all well and good -- so long as the deacons didn't preside at worship. The biblical analogy for this model was to Priests and Levites -- and remember what happened when some uppity Levites got the idea to usurp the priesthood! Moreover, being quite biblical on this, even preaching is not properly a diaconal ministry -- note the explicit commission of the deacons in Acts 6:2. The actual model Obadiah describes is more like the Metropolitan church in which the bishop is surrounded by a college of presbyters -- but that's just the point, they are presbyters, not deacons.

So yes, in one way it is a problem of nomenclature -- but as such, why not then simply take the logical step and make anyone who presides at the liturgy a presbyter? Sydney seems to have some desire to separate the historic (and biblical) connection between office and order, and seems to be caught in a device of their own invention if the necessity is to comply with an idea that only the incumbent can be a priest.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Tobias raises a point about the new Sydney model that has intrigued me before: that the model of a parish priest surrounded by deacons does resemble a "Metropolitan church in which the bishop is surrounded by a college of presbyters".
The resemblance is even stronger when you take into account the mission aim in Sydney for each parish to plant new congregations (on or off site). So one parish may palnt churches in schools or workplaces around its locality, or churches aimed at a workplace or profession (such as the media church ior the visual arts church which already exist in Sydney), or a church aimed at disabled people who may want to meet together.
So each parish comes to resemble a cathedral as the mother church of many others.
So why not make each parish priest a bishop and each deacon a presbyter?
It is the way I personally would go. what do you think Tobias?
Of course 300 Sydney bishops at Lambeth or Gafcon might be a bit much.

Obadiah Slope

Anonymous said...


You rely on the Ordinal in your defence of the traditional position that Deacons may not officiate at Communion.

In Australia, one would have to ask "which ordinal?". For deacons there are at least two.

The Ordination Service for Deacons Canon 1985 of the Australian General Synod includes the following: "As deacons, you are to model your life according to the word of God. You are to be faithful in prayer, and take your place with bishop, priest and people in public worship and at the administration of the sacraments." This wording omits the word "assist" and has allowed Sydney to make the argument that a deacon's place at the Eucharist may be as officiant.

The 1662 Act of Uniformity in no longer in effect in Australia and anny prohibnition it contains is no longer in force.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

A very quick response, O and B, as I'm about to head out to join the queue at the polling place!

O -- this strikes me as a kind of "is this trip really necessary" kind of option. Sydney seems to be stuck on the idea that there can only be one presbyter in a parish -- an entirely novel concept. To go back to the earliest days of the developing church, when the model was "bishop in the metropolis, surrounded by assisting presbyters; in the country churches have 'country bishops' (chorepiscopoi -- who are the ancestors of what we now know as the 'parish priest' and who had the authority to ordain deacons but not presbyters to assist them)" seems a needless recapitulation. If it is just a matter of terminology, then why not go with the tradition? As you well know, I have no shyness about departing from tradition when good reason can be shown to do so; but in this case the easier solution would be to get rid of the novel concept of one-presbyter-per-parish and ordain anyone who is charged with celebrating the eucharist to the priesthood. Or is it really the unwillingness to do this for women, even in a children's hospital or women's prison?

Brian, I was aware of those changes, but I still do not think that the bare wording of the text of the new ordinal(not whatever it was intended to mean -- and a point was made about the important distinction) does not support diaconal presidency, on two grounds.

1) the text says "take your place with" not "take the place of"

2) what does the rest of the text say is the defined "place" of a deacon?

Apart from the occasional ministry at baptism, is there any indication in the present ordinal that deacons are specifically intended to preside at the administration of the sacraments? That, it seems to me, is the question. To argue from an implied silence would seem to me to be insufficient in light of a long tradition; and as I've noted, a fairly clear scriptural record as well.

I certainly have no dog in this hunt, but it seems that there is some hidden agenda at work, since, as Obadiah points out, this is really a matter of words, and as I would say, reading between them. What is the point that Syndey is seeking to make, since there are many other ways to accommodate the need for an increase in the number of ministers, through ordination to the offices that historically have exercised those ministries?

Brother David said...

And are not the three of you focusing on but one point in the game Sydney is playing?

This whole argument of a priest (presbyter) surrounded by a college of deacons falls apart in a slight breeze when you add lay presidency at Eucharist, which seems to be the ultimate goal in Sydney. Will Obadiah then come to argue that the real model is a parish deacon surrounded by his college of laymen?

Anonymous said...

Lord Almighty, what sin have we, your Church, committed that you would plauge us with MORE clerics?

Yes, there are the good ones out there, but in my experience we need more people to clean the toilets and do the dishes than to sit up front and pass out crackers and juice and not muss their fancy clothes. Clerics, from my reading of the Scripture and of the various Canons et cetera, are to be workers for Christ, and yet many have calluses on their souls, not their hands.

(It's discussions like this one that make me distinctly aware of the fact you can take the girl out of Methodisim, but you sure as shooting can't take the Methodisim out of the girl!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dahveed, I'm sticking for the time being to the deacon issue as that is what the present action supports. I know the Sydneyites have other plans down the road -- for the life of me I can't think why.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mary Sue, I think part of the problem is the idea that all a cleric is called to do is preside at the administration of the sacraments -- that is, as you point out, only one of the tasks involved in being a priest. I know my week is spent far more in dealing with the boiler and the state of an aging building, in visiting shut in parishioners and making trips to hospital, than in standing at the altar. (My parish only has one Sunday liturgy.)

So part of the problem I have with Sydney is what I can't help seeing as the suggestion that there is a crying need for more people to "administer the sacrament" as if that and that alone were the defining mark of what it means to be ordained. As I say, read the Ordinal! And the Scripture! The elder is to be a leader both in worship and in ministry. If all that is needed is a "sacramentalist" the church is in very perilous danger.

it's margaret said...

This continued discussion reminds me----isn't it Our Lord who presides at the Eucharist? The person at the altar is merely the mouthpiece, the lips for the Body of Christ, the gathered people....

R said...


Just to highlight one more dimension to the discussion under way, I was taught that presiding at Eucharist stems in part from pastoral leadership or pastoral presidency in the community. Hence, it is normally the leading pastor in the community who presides -- in our polity, the priest.

It has a hierarchical aspect, to be sure (perhaps one reason why Sydney has rejected the traditional model?), but it is in keeping, as you so succinctly and eloquently outline, with good order in the community.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I can't speak for anyone else, but I do not regard myself to be the mouthpiece of Jesus at the altar or anywhere else. I understand myself to be the spiritual leader of my congregation, called to serve them and guide them. Part of that service and guidance includes presiding at the liturgy. I believe that Christ's presence in the eucharist is in the Bread and Wine and the hearts of the faithful, including myself.

I tend to see the role of the priest as much like the conductor of an orchestra: without the orchestra, she would just be waving her arms about and there would be no music -- but for any orchestra of a sufficient size a conductor is needed if the orchestra is to do its best. The Sydney approach strikes me as a kind of false democracy, which denies that there are different gifts that work together for the good of the church. Taking the excellent cellist and saying, "today you will conduct instead of playing the cello" honors neither the gifts of the cellist nor the needs of the orchestra -- to say nothing of the cello section! To paraphrase Paul, "If the orchestra is all conductors, there can be no music."

It is not without reason that in any sufficiently complex system there tends to evolve a specialization of different organs for different purposes -- and the ordained ministry is part of how that reality is reflected in the church, from the very earliest times.

it's margaret said...

NO! NO! Not the "mouthpiece" of Jesus! Sorry--I did not mean to imply that. NO! YIKES!

What I meant was that it is our Lord who presides at the Eucharist. And when the gathered people of God pray, God hears the only begotten son speak.....

And your imagery of the conductor suits me fine. That is far closer to what I meant. The people of God in concert....

But still --is there something else I can say to emphasize --it is Christ who presides, not a priest or deacon or lay person or...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Margaret. That's more like it. Glad to know we are on a similar wavelength.

And Yes, it is God who is above it all, hovering over the liturgy as at the beginning the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, as in the Eucharistic Re-Creation Christ becomes present again in the elements and in the hearts of those who partake. I think that is why part of the prayer asks God's Spirit "to descend upon us, and upon these gifts" -- as Eucharistic Prayer D (my favorite, and the most orthodox -- in a good way) says.

As a priest, I do not feel that I am the agent of God's presence, but like to think of myself as a child whose hand is guided by a loving mother or father. The whole Eucharist, after all, is a prayer. A prayer God answers -- always, everywhere. For what loving father or mother would give to children who ask for bread, a stone...?

Erika Baker said...

If specialisation is the criterion, then what does it require to preside at the Eucharist?
I can see that only good preachers should preach, that the organist should know something about music, that the pastoral assistant should be pastorally gifted etc.

This kind of specialisation is based on everyone giving their greatest skills for the good of the community.

I'm not sure I understand how presiding at the Eucharist fits into your image of a skilled orchestra.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Erika,
Although I am loath to see the celebration of the eucharist as a "performance art" (and in my essay on the Eastward Position actually wrote in opposition to such a view), and thus my analogy is not meant to be carried to a allegorical conclusions, still there are some basic skills involved. The canons of TEC actually specify such things as skill in public speaking, for example.

However, that is not, for me, the real issue, and I hope my analogy didn't lead us off into an unproductive course. It is not really about specialization -- as if the celebrant were only that and nothing else. The real issue, for me, is the holistic understanding of leadership -- a notion under some assault by what I call above the move towards "false democracy" that fails to take account of the various real gifts distributed among the members of the church. The leader of the congregation in teaching and pastoral care also leads that same community in its worship. This is not a necessary thing, I hasten to add. There are churches, such as the Church of the Brethren, in which the minister of the congregation deliberately does not preside at the Lord's Supper, and the whole congregation speaks the words of institution. (I base my knowledge of this on a report from a former CoB member, so this info may not be entirely trustworthy). This reflects a very different model for the church. I'm not saying it is wrong -- but that it is not our model. It derives from the history of the Anabaptist movement, a very different theology and view of the nature of the church. Our history and theology is different, and that is reflected in our liturgy.

My analogy about the orchestra can be expanded by understanding that the conductor does more for the orchestra than simply show up at 8 pm and stride to the podium and lead the music. In a very real sense the conductor is not a specialist but a gifted generalist. The conductor is also -- much as a priest or bishop -- the public voice of the institution, a colleague who works with other leaders in the arts community, active in the selection of the programme for the concerts, and the commissioning of new work; and so on. So to the leader of a congregation is not simply a specialist who only leads the eucharistic prayer, but a generalist who takes up a coordinating role in the life of the congregation.

What concerns me most is the theological basis for splitting off this one thing among many -- presiding at the eucharist -- and detaching it from this matrix of service and leadership, almost as if it were a superfluous aspect of the life of the church, to be treated rather casually. (As a matter of fact, the Sydney evangelical movement does not see the Eucharist as all that central to its life, so that may well explain the ease with which this move can be made.)

I would welcome seeing a cogent argument for this from within our traditional understanding, based on Scripture or the historic liturgies that form our heritage. (As you know, I have made similar efforts in laying out how same-sex marriage can be supported in such a fashion.) But the actual reasons offered in Sydney seem to me to be, frankly, duplicitous forced readings of their own canons and ordinal -- and I suspect there is, as others have noted, another agenda at work, which includes forestalling the ordination of women.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you - lucid as always!

Anonymous said...

"What concerns me most is the theological basis for splitting off this one thing among many -- presiding at the eucharist -- and detaching it from this matrix of service and leadership.."
Tobias, the synod of Sydney is saying the same thing. Deacons preach, baptise and lead worship. Why split off communion? Authorised lay people preach? Why split off the (dominical) sacraments.
In the anglican world, deacons have been junior priests (what TEC calls transistional deacons) with the vocational deaconate relatively rare. Another innovation is locally licensed priests.
Sydney is using the titles rather differently to TEC. But in wishing to keep preaching and the sacraments together their aim in similar to the principle you espouse.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

This seems to me to be an exercise in calling black "white." I will note that the "splitting off" is the innovation from the tradition, which has allowed lay persons and deacons to exercise certain functions previously reserved to bishops and priests. No "splitting off" is taking place by reserving presiding at the eucharist to the priest and bishop; no "splitting" is taking place.

The provision for deacons preaching is relatively ancient (one could point to Stephen) but there is no historic provision for deacons to celebrate -- or to ordain, for that matter.

So the question has to be, "Why do you want to distribute to the diaconate and laity something that has previously been reserved to priests and bishops." And why this alone -- why not teaching and ordaining? (That was my point about separating this one faculty from all of the others that belong to the other orders.)

Those making the change -- the split -- need to provide the rationale, and it is no rationale to say, "Why not do this?" That, in fact, is a demand for a rationale for those maintaining the traditional division of labor.

Ultimately, the Sydney position leads us to ask, "Why have ordination at all?" -- since it is not a dominical sacrament. Why, indeed, not become the Church of the Brethren.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, it seems odd to me that a voice from within TEC argues from tradition, that we should continue to do what we have always done. I can only note that tradition appears not to have been the decisive argument on TEC's approach to other matters of dispute within the Anglican Communion.
So permit me a wry smile. Only a fleeting one, okay?
If we are to argue from tradition though, ISTM that the permanent diaconate appears to have been a feature of the early church, but not necessarily part of PECUSA. Or have deacons been common in many TEC parishes? (I ask because I do not know.)
I may be wrong but it seems to me that the Bible is silent on whether deacons celebrated communion.
We are all arguing from (near) silence.
Having said all that, I would prefer that Sydney simply priested all those who preach and celebrate communion, as an act of respect to the consciences of the others in the Communion.

Obadiah Slope

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think you misunderstand me. I am not "arguing from tradition." If I were a wry smile would be by all means appropriate, and may be so in any csse.

My critique was based solely on what I see as specious arguments on the part of Syndey. The issue itself is, I think, open to debate. What I am saying, as others have said of TEC, is that given the tradition, those who are arguing for a change in the tradition are the ones who need to present cogent arguments. Just as many have said they do not find the arguments pro same-sex marriage to be convincing (or even asserted they have not been made, which is patently false), I am here saying that I do not find the arguments advanced by Sydney to be convincing -- based as they are to a large extent upon a squint-view of the canons and the ordinal.

As to deacons in TEC parishes, there was a major revival in this in the 19th century, and again in the middle of the last century, and again about a generation ago. There is still much confusion about the distinctive nature of the diaconate, but I think we've always been clear that it is a ministry of service, not leadership. And, as I say, we have a holistic sense of leadership that does not isolate single aspects from each other.
The problem with Sydney seems to be the resistance to doing what you suggest in your closing words; and that therefore they seem to be wanting to make a point. The question is, What is that point? In the past I have thought this movement was being used as a kind of bait-and-switch, in which Sydney would finally capitulate in respect of the consciences of others in the Communion, and then point to TEC and say, "Why don't you do the same." (Suggestions along this line were made a few years back when this issue came to the fore.) The difference, of course, is that what Sydney is suggesting seems so "pointless" -- or at least, the "point" has not been fully explicated.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for Sydney as a whole, but I think one of the points being made is that a squint eyed (great phrase) view of the canons has led to the Australian church having women bishops.
If wiggle room has been found to adopt that without a vote at general synod, then if a similar reading can be found for lay presidency that should be allowed too. If you look at the Sydney motion, it is based on a legal opinion that just as a change to a general synod canon inadvertently allowed women bishops, another change has allowed diaconal administration.
While I understand the frustration of the progressives at not being able to get a vote to allow women bishops, I think legislation by loophole may have invited Sydney to try the same path.
And that is against a backdrop of the wider communion, where innovation without any significant consultation appears to be the order of the day.
I am not sure I like the argument much, I think Sydney should consult the other dioceses and provinces rather more. But increasingly it does feel as though the progressive side of the Australian church and the communion is saying, "you must hold back, but for us to do so would be a sin".
Autonomy and or interdependence are concepts we seem to apply differently depending on whether it is our project or someone elses' being discussed.
It is a case of each province (or diocese) doing what seems right in their own eyes.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I'm not really interested in the meta-discussion and the logical fallacy tu quoque that you lay on the table here. This only offers support to my suggestion that Sydney is really doing this as part of that particular card game, and not on account of any real conviction or need. The issue for me is not "Can Sydney do this by a clever reading of the canons, much as others did to their own ends?" (obviously they can; but "WHY is Sydney doing this, other than to say just that: 'If you play fast and loose and don't consult so can we!'?"

There are and have been any number of arguments given for the ordination of women, and the recognition of the ordination of gay (and lesbian) persons [noting that gay men have been ordained for centuries; what is different is the approbation implied in doing this knowingly]. But what are the arguments for diaconal or lay celebration of the eucharist? All I've seen is the expression of a need for more people capable of celebrating, and a rationale that allows the process to take place without Synodical action on the canons.

Is the real reason, as your last note suggests, just to be able to trump the hand in the World Wide Anglican game of Whist? I'm afraid that Knave is actually the Joker.

Anonymous said...

that is more than a fair point.
There has been a 30 year debate here on lay administration and political ephemera have played little part in it.
I have looked for a convenient place on the web, in particular the Sydney doctrine commisssion reports, but the links are too scattered. Will update you about this if I make progress.
But a couple of lobby groups in this diocese, the Anglican Church League and the Church Record have joined forces to publish a ompilation of papers. See
Still dead tree for now.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Obadiah. I look forward to taking a look at those papers. As I said above, I am never opposed to looking at an issue, and discussing it -- certainly I don't think tradition alone is a binding authority. In this I remain a fairly well-settled Hookerian. Peace and all joy,

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Hi Tobias,

I've been hearing a lot about you from mutual friends recently...Parkton and the like.

On the Australian controversy (how refreshing not to think about TEC for once!) have you seen the following essay by Dale Rye?

I thought it very informative.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Nathan. Yes, John and Elizabeth mentioned you -- and I look forward to getting together some time in the future, next time I'm in the Balto/Wash corridor.

Thanks for the link to Dale's article. There was little in it new to me -- I'm aware of the peculiar history of Evangelicalism in Australia, which explains a great deal (as does the history of the CMS in Africa) about the present state of various, shall we say, "schools of thought" in the Anglican Communion! But Dale expresses himself well and I think this will be a useful explanation for some who may be mystified by the Aussie developments.

It does seem to me, that as with TEC, Sydney may not really "get" the reasons for opposition to their actions, which, as Dale suggest, seem as harmless and natural to them as ordaining Gene Robinson seemed to us.

Anonymous said...

I have had two recent articles by Peter Jensen pointed out to me which might be of assistance:

Peter visited the clergy of the (largely) Anglo Catholic Newcastle diocese to our north and gave an address from which two articles were published on Sydney Anglicans.

I could drown you with synod reports, but I am still tracking an online link to the main Doctrine Commission report.

Obadiah Slope

Anonymous said...

And here's that 1983 report that startted the debate in the sydney synod.

After that it gets as complicated as the SSB debate in TEC over the last few decades!

Obadiah Slope

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the back up documents. I look forward to perusing them. I'm unfortunately tied up with a flood in the church basement, damaging the boiler, and still not sure where the water came from! Ah, the life of the priesthood! Lay presidency is sounding more and more attractive... ;-)