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“Could Lay Celebration Renew The Church of England?”

The Revd John Richardson blogs as ‘The Ugley Vicar’ (a self-deprecating pun in which he takes a very Anglican delight: he is the Vicar of Ugley in Essex). On 12 April he wrote a post under this title which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce below. I think it important because it is the best explanation I have seen of why Anglicans in general, and the Church of England in particular, might come to adopt lay presidency.


The State of the Church

One of the things that literally causes me sleepless hours is the present state of the Church of England.  It is not just the doctrinal and moral issues currently being raked over as we consider, for example, the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury. It is also the lack of evangelistic impact the Church of England has on the country and the lack of effective energy amongst many of its members. Somehow, despite its best efforts — and some of them are considerable — the Church as a whole fails to impress or enthuse.

Lay Presidency

I must have been musing on this the other morning when my thoughts turned yet again to the topic of lay celebration — the practice of allowing ordinary laypeople to preside at that activity we know variously as Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. When I say ‘yet again’, I do mean that this is something I have thought about often. Indeed, I first gave it conscious consideration back in the 1970s, soon after I became a Christian. Despite growing up in a strongly Anglo-Catholic tradition, it seemed obvious, subsequent to my conversion, that any Christian group ought to be able to commemorate the Last Supper, regardless of whether an ‘ordained’ or authorized person were present.

‘Only priests can do this’

The same thought persisted throughout my college years at St John’s, Nottingham. When David Sheppard, then the Bishop of Woolwich, took part in the only college debate we had on the subject, I was simply struck by how much his arguments seemed to depend on special pleading, not common sense and Scripture.
The same was true when I read and reviewed Eucharistic Presidency: A Theological Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod, published in 1997. On the one hand, the Bishops seemed unwilling to commit to a ‘Romanesque’ theology of priesthood. On the other hand, they wanted to make sure that only priests could celebrate the eucharist.
The result was an appeal to the notion of ‘overall pastoral oversight’ supposedly possessed by the incumbent, but of course not possessed by curates or visiting clergy called in when the incumbent is unavailable. Hence we were back to the (desired) conclusion: ‘Only priests can do this,’ but lacking the old justification, ‘Because they are priests,’ and relying instead on a new, functional, justification which in the end is either too narrow or (potentially) too broad.
It has always seemed to me that the best argument for ‘priests, and priests only’ is the Roman (and Anglo) Catholic one: that priests are different in kind and can do different stuff. Once, however, you accept the notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, then rationalizations of the ‘priests only’ rule begin to look just like that.
And this is why it matters.  If you truly regard the Christian community generally as a ‘priestly kingdom’, you ought to act accordingly. If you don’t act like it, then you either don’t believe it, or you do believe it but are prepared to act in disobedience to it.

Harnessing the energies of our laity

Arguably this also has some bearing on why it is so difficult to harness the energies of our laity. Whilst they consider themselves ‘disenfranchised’, why should they take responsibility?  And if they are capable of taking this responsibility, why do we reserve the sacramental role to the clergy? Certainly the view of at least some of the early Reformers was consistent with this attitude. Martin Luther, in particular, had a ‘theology of the word’ which meant that anyone, including women, could act in a ‘priestly’ manner:
To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, for it is the greatest office in the church — the proclamation of the Word of God. So when women baptize, they exercise the function of priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church which belongs only to the priesthood. (‘Concerning the Ministry’, LW 40:23)
Rather less-widely known is Thomas Cranmer’s view that in the absence of bishops, anyone, including the laity, could authorize some of their number to act as priests.
Now of course the Puritans, of whom I am generally a fan, opposed lay baptism, and therefore presumably may have struggled with lay celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But I may be wrong — and in any case I cannot understand their reticence on the baptism issue. I have long been of the opinion that the Reformation generally fell short when it came to reforming the Church’s ministry. In my heart of hearts, I am persuaded that in this regard the Church is indeed still ‘but halfly reformed’.

What holds me back

First, I am concerned for Anglican Catholics. I do not agree with their arguments, but I understand them and recognize their internal consistency and their long history. So whilst I would like to see change, I would want to discuss it and clarify the reasons for this with others who take a different view, just as one ought to in a congregational setting.
Secondly, we have all seen what happens when groups and individuals, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a spiritual novelty, go off the rails.  It is simply not the case that ‘clergy-led, bad; lay-led, good’. On the contrary, lay-led is often subject to abuse and domineering personalities. That there is some control over this in the episcopal system has long seemed to me one of the key arguments in its favour. Purist ‘congregationalism’ is, I think, a bad thing, and before taking steps in the direction I am suggesting, is one of the things that should also be discussed.

The need to empower the whole people of God

Yet it does seem to me that we need to break the spiritual-monopolistic tendency of Anglican clericalism and to empower the whole people of God. I have said before that I believe the current Anglican model of ministry is essentially ‘aristocratic’. We are a community divided into an elite and the rest, and no one can cross from the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks without being admitted by the gatekeepers, who are virtually all themselves members of that elite. But the chief qualification for exercising your ‘elitism’ is simply that you are of the elite — I am a ‘priest’ and you are not, and there’s an end to it. The answer, however, is not democracy! In a religious democracy — at least in the sense I am using the word — every ‘Jack’ or ‘Jill’ is as good as his or her master or mistress. Here there is no submission to leaders, as advocated in Hebrews 13:17. Instead, ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’, and to disagree with or contradict the erstwhile leadership as much as they feel inclined.
Actually, of course, such disagreement goes on all the time in the Church of England. But thanks to our aristocratic system, the ‘mob’ of the laity can never actually seize the Bastille of sacramental privilege. It is rather like the old Victorian rhyme about the colonial wars:
“Whatever happens, we have got
the Maxim gun — and they have not.’
But there is a third way, which is ‘meritocracy’ — which it seems to me is already exemplified in Judaism, and indeed Islam. In Judaism, the path to the rabbinate is through study. Thus whilst being an intellectual does not make you a rabbi, to be a rabbi requires learning. And one thing is sure: no one could expect to become a rabbi who did not have a substantial grasp of the Hebrew language. Certainly you could not expect to be a rabbi (or an imam, come to that) without being able to read and engage with the sacred texts of your community. Yet how many Anglican clergy have a grasp of the original languages?
Now I am not saying that you have to be able to read Greek or Hebrew in order to be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper — far from it. But at the moment the privileged few who can do this may have little or no ability in areas that other religions would consider fundamental, whilst those who could, through personal effort, acquire such skills, are potentially excluded by the elitist system from ever exercising the role of ‘leader’ conceived in Hebrews.

The system is surely in need of renewal

Whatever our views, the system is surely in need of renewal. Full-time, full-time trained, clergy are in increasingly short supply. The return of the ‘mass priest’, able to recite the service but skilled in little else, looms — either that or we must accept the practice of sacramental reservation even whilst our formularies deny the principle.  We live in radically challenging times. Should we not be considering radically alternative answers?
The illustration was chosen by me: it depicts the  “Fractio Panis” fresco in the Capella Greca of the Roman catacomb of St. Priscilla

27 comments on this post:

Sam Norton said...

Um… short answer is ‘no’. A fully equipped and enabled laity given the capacity to do their apostolic tasks within the community – that might do the trick. But abolishing the differences within the body of Christ itself, that seems to me to be the perfect example of a misplaced focus. I should also say that if lay presidency is accepted in the CofE I’d leave it – it would make the ordination of women priests look like the proverbial vicarage tea party. Do we really want to get the church tied up in yet more internal wrangling when – as John himself points out – there is such a glaring deficiency in our capacity to share the faith with the people of England? Seems like the perfect way to finish off the project of self-destruction that the CofE has been engaged in for far too long. I wrote more about this a few years ago on my blog, and my thoughts haven’t changed much:

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, and while you have been doing this, I have been reading your earlier blog posts. You seem to say that lay presidency is acceptable in desert island conditions, but not where there is a priest able and willing to celebrate. My guess is that most people (except those for whom, as you say, the eucharist is the least sacramental) would agree with you on this.
I think the question John Richardson raises is whether we have yet reached the desert island point. In other words, with the Church able to afford fewer and fewer priests, more and more of us will find ourselves living on desert islands with a church but no priest. To continue the analogy, the islanders have the choice of getting in a boat and sailing to another island which does still have a priest whenever they want to worship, OR nominating one of their number to act as priest and follow the eucharistic liturgy as if he or she were a priest, OR choosing a non-eucharistic liturgy which can be presided over by one of their number.
As I understand the position, ‘Sydney Anglicans’ favour lay presidency for its own sake. I do not think John Richardson is proposing this – he is simply suggesting that the Church faces a crisis (or rather seems not to be facing up to the crisis) which demands a solution.
Personally, as I have already blogged here, I would prefer the solution of having services offered on each desert island every week, the majority if necessary being lay-led services of the word, with a priest leading eucharistic services as often as possible.

21 April 2012 09:46
21 April 2012 09:28
UKViewer said...

Laura, I remember reading this on John’s blog when he first posted it. He makes some really good points and theologically sound. But I wonder if we are yet ready for this?

You mention the ‘Desert Island’ situation, I don’t see us being anywhere near that, but the current model isn’t producing sufficient vocations that are affordable, to provide a Priest for every community. I see several solutions to this:

First: Reserve the Sacrament and allow Readers and trained and authorised Laity to lead services of Communion by Extension, when a Eucharistic celebrant is not available regularly.

Second: We go back to the tradition of a Service of the Word for say, two Sundays and Eucharist on the other two. We already work to that pattern in our 5 church benefice so that there is always one service in each church each week. When we lose our Curate in a year or so, we might have to increase that number. Our Clergy are overworked trying to meet people’s expectations, not many of whom seem willing to answer a call to Lay Ministry.

Third. We separate the Priest from Parish Ministry altogether, having a Lay Ministry team in place in each Parish (or NSM) for day to day and pastoral care. We have Stipendiary ministers at Deanery level, providing Eucharistic Services on a Rota for churches within the Deanery. Occasional offices being managed centrally to ensure that an Ordained Minister is available for Baptisms, Weddings etc. Funerals could be taken by trained, authorised Funeral Ministers, as already happens in some places.

Fourth: To recognise the orders of all Christian Ministers in an area and for them all to share providing Eucharistic services in whatever form their denomination provides in each others churches. Taking Ecumenicism towards real unity.

The issue in all of this is the perception of the Church abandoning its traditional role at the heart of our community. A perception that is cherished and valued widely, but mainly among the older generations brought up in the Church.

Coming from a Catholic background, I was actually used to going to any Catholic Church and joining in a common Eucharist, which was the same, wherever you went. Allegiance to a parish or to a community existed, but if you had a mobile lifestyle such as mine, you got used to worshipping wherever you happened to be.

So, I don’t support lay presidency, but do support empowering the laity to new roles, which allows their discipleship and call to be recognised and to be used to the Glory of God and the benefit of their community.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks, UK Viewer, for commenting.

As I said, I personally don’t support lay presidency either, but since the website is called ‘Lay Anglicana’, and since the topic is unlikely to go away, I think it is something we need to air every so often. I thought ‘the Ugley Vicar’ put as good a case as I have seen, which is why I asked him to let me reproduce it here.

I can see that the distribution of the reserved sacrament ought to be acceptable, but to me it isn’t. My reaction is an instinctive one, but I suppose the main reasons are I feel strongly that the consecration should take place in front of the people who are to receive the Host. Consecration is not a mechanical ‘waving of the clerical wand’, it is a living sacrament which involves the presence of both priest and people. Ministering to the sick is an example of pragmatism – a necessary compromise in cases where the ideal is not possible.

Despite having been a lay worship leader myself, I also dislike the idea of the communion service being led by a member of the laity.

Nevertheless, I think John Richardson correctly identifies the problem – it is the same one we have discussed here – of there not being enough priests to go around.

In the circumstances, my greatly preferred solution is your second one, which I very much hope will find favour. It had been the pattern in the church until the Parish Communion Movement revolutionised things, anxious to do away with boring old Matins. I actually like Matins, but in any case there are modern versions.

UKViewer said...

In our case, when the Sacrament is consecrated for being taken to the Sick or to Care Homes, we identify it in the service and the congregation knows that it is for our members, who are unable to gather with us for worship.

I lead some of these services, in care homes, and the words we use, join us together with those who gathered together when the elements were consecrated.

I had 6 months of training with the Vicar and our Lay Reader, before being given responsibility for leading. Was it enough, probably not. But needs must in certain cases.

While I don’t particularly like Communion by Extension – I don’t particularly dislike it either. It is an authorised form of service and is led, by our Reader, or by our Curate, before she was Priested. In certain circumstances it’s appropriate, and people can always opt to go to the Cathedral 2 miles down the road if they wish.

I don’t like the idea or concept of Lay Presidency and wouldn’t attend such a service. However, when I look at services with other denominations, where I have received communion such as Methodist, URC and Baptist, their Ministers aren’t Episcopally Ordained, but I don’t doubt their ability to consecrate the elements? I took communion because I believed it was valid.

They believe that they are called to their version of the Priesthood and their intentions are no different from an Anglican or Catholic Priest when consecrating the elements.

Even Salvation Army has Ordained Ministers, who don’t do the Eucharist – does this make their Ordination invalid?

This will I’m sure be a long running story, which will receive discernment from both sides during the next few years. I hope that the Church gets it’s act together and stops such an initiative as Lay Presidency dead in its tracks.

For once, I would support the Bishops and General Synod in this.

Lay Anglicana said...

How would you regard the example I gave, whereby a ‘lay worship leader’ is using the reserved sacrament to take eucharistic services in a parish church?

UKViewer said...

By Eucharistic Services, I presume that you mean Communion by Extension?

If he is trained and formally authorised by the Bishop, I presume that someone in authority has given it the OK. But I would be uncomfortable with it, unless I knew that specific authority had been given.

The words of the service for communion by extension can either be used by Lay or Ordained, but with specific authority by the Bishop. Canon E7 applies.

It’s worth reading the guidance notes as they clearly specify how and when the service may be used. Specifically:

“Communion by Extension will require that special care is given to the conduct of the service, and especially that the consecrated elements are treated in a seemly and dignified manner. Those responsible for a service should ensure that the consecrated elements are adequate to meet the needs of the congregation, and that any consecrated bread and wine which is not required for the purposes of communion is consumed either during or immediately after the service.”

If this is a long standing thing and the Worship Leader’s authority is being automatically renewed without any sort of review, I would be suspicious of the motivation behind it.

22 April 2012 15:34
Lay Anglicana said...

Yes, we are talking about ‘communion by extension’, though I had not heard the phrase before. Thank-you for the link. Several parts of the text are particularly interesting and relevant in this context:

A particular congregation should not come to rely mainly upon this means of eucharistic participation, and care should be taken to ensure that a celebration of Holy Communion takes place regularly in each church concerned.

The bishop should regularly review the use of this rite in parishes where it is used. Communion by Extension must always be regarded as exceptional and provisional, looking to circumstances when a priest will be available to preside at a celebration of Holy Communion.

Such a person will normally be a deacon, Reader or lay worker licensed under Canon E 7, and must wear the appropriate vesture.

So far as I know, this particular parish is in future to rely almost wholly on ‘communion by extension’: the only way it is envisaged that a priest would be able to commit to regular communion services is if a full-time priest were appointed instead of the present part-time arrangement. The lay worship leader concerned has never ‘robed up’ to take services and I would have thought might feel uncomfortable doing so. I do not know whether he is now wearing vestments (if that is what ‘the appropriate vesture’ means?)

I cannot say much more without getting into personalities, which is obviously to be avoided. I remain deeply uneasy about the arrangement in our benefice.

23 April 2012 09:45
21 April 2012 19:17
21 April 2012 18:40
21 April 2012 15:53
21 April 2012 14:53
Stephen said...

I won’t comment on the ecclesiological questions surrounding lay presidency itself (to which I am firmly, indeed implacably, opposed) but confine myself rather to its supposed link with the CofE’s “lack of evangelistic impact”. What evidence is there that the latter – which in any case is by no means true everywhere – is linked to the absence of lay eucharistic presidents? There are already Christian communities in which the eucharist is celebrated by someone who is not episcopally ordained (ie lay people in Anglican terms). Are they having significantly greater “evangelistic impact”?

I think the Ugley Vicar is clutching at straws.

Lay Anglicana said...

You make a good point, and I wonder whether anyone has studied this?

I agree that the Ugley Vicar is clutching at straws, and think he probably would agree too. I think he is clutching at straws (as am I) for fear he – and the Church – might otherwise drown. I suspect the lack of priests is much more noticeable in rural communities than it is in towns. There is a proposal in our (rural) deanery to make the laity responsible for all admin tasks, as well as taking on a greater share of the pastoral work. They are also to lead an increasing number of services of the word in lieu of a weekly communion service.

Luckily for me, this would also be my preferred solution. I will borrow, if I may, your words: ‘I am firmly, indeed implacably opposed’ to lay presidency and think it is a solution to the wrong problem, if you see what I mean.

While we are on the subject, however, I wonder if I might canvass your views on the following idea? In various house groups which I have belonged to, there is sometimes a feeling that we would like to break bread together in a liturgical way, if that makes sense. If the Church felt able to devise a liturgy – which would invoke the Eucharist, but not attempt to substitute for the Eucharist – longer than a grace, shorter than Compline, and something that could perhaps occasionally be used with a shorter bible study version. Also, it would normally by used in homes, not at church.

Chris Fewings said...

Reserved antidoron?

19 January 2013 18:57
21 April 2012 16:22
21 April 2012 15:14
Alan Crawley said...

And how would these lay presidents be selected and authorised – and what knowledge etc would they require? And how would this differ from the current situation?
I think that John is suggesting that the local congregation select one of their own, but in this diocese you can do little without training and authorisation.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks Alan. To answer a theoretical question, I suppose the selection would begin with Licensed Lay Ministers (formerly Lay Readers). The problem is that not every parish that is short of priests necessarily has an LLM. Nor is it easy to find candidates. The solution, this being the Church of England, I suspect will be applied piecemeal. For example, a lay worship leader in our benefice (not a Reader/LLM, but someone who has taken services of the word for perhaps 20 years) is now ‘taking’ Eucharistic services, using the reserved sacrament, and has been doing so for several months. I have not heard that he has had any formal training: he originally took Matins on the basis that he was a churchwarden, and by the time training was introduced in 2005, he was thought not to need it, though he was formally commissioned with those of us who were offered training. Ad Hoc-ery rules, in other words. Is this strictly lay presidency? No, I suppose not. Would I like to attend such a service? No.

21 April 2012 17:18
21 April 2012 16:06
Andy Ryland said...

Would a Baptist C of E LEP help in this matter. Has anyone any experience of this from either a C of E or Baptist position or for that matter a Anglo-Baptist position?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for commenting, Andy. I have to confess ignorance here – what is an LEP? Lay Extended Presidency?? We can wait to see if anyone answers your question if you like, or if you explain further, maybe you and I could discuss it?

Andy Ryland said...

LEP = Local Ecumenical Partnership.

I.e if you had an LEP with a Baptist Church you could have a communion service led by a Baptist, where the celebrant would not need to be ordained as this is the tradition in the Baptist Church.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for coming back to me, Andy, and I apologise for the delay in replying, but I felt I should sleep on it. You pose a teaser of a question! I have been trying to work out whether my reaction is a personal one, or whether I speak for the whole Anglican Communion.

I think the answer probably depends on what you think the sacrament of the eucharist is – if you are eating a piece of bread and drinking a sip of wine (presumably wine substitute if you are a Baptist?) while saying a few prayers, then there is no reason why a Baptist should not lead such a service, using Baptist liturgy. But in the Church of England prayer of humble access, we say ‘Grant us…so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood’. I imagine a Baptist would not say that?

The reason why the Church of England is unwilling to accept non-ordained people to take a service of communion is that we believe the celebrant needs to have taken that final step of ordination, when the bishop says ‘Take thou authority… to minister the holy sacraments…’ This authority is not given to anyone else. For me, I would be happy to attend a service of the word led by a Baptist (in fact one of the lay worship leaders in our deanery is a Quaker and so does not take communion, for example) under a Local Ecumenical Partnership. But for members of the Church of England, only an ordained priest can take a communion service.

If I were a ‘Sydney Anglican’, I might feel differently. So I think the answer as to whether I can speak for the whole Anglican Communion is no, I cannot. However, I think I probably do speak for the majority.

Chris Fewings said...

Balsall Heath Church Centre, established in 1980 in Birmingham, has never been a formal Local Ecumenical Project but it was a partnership between an Anglican (originally Anglo-Catholic) parish and a local Church of Christ – the Churches of Christ became part of the URC in 1981 but this congregation retained its CofC traditions, with non-professionalised elders frequently presiding at their weekly communion services.

In the flexible building (which is also a day care centre for the frail elderly) the Anglicans and URC congregations would normally hold their weekly communion services separately (still do, I think) but periodically hold joint communion services where the two churches accepted each other’s eucharistic ministry.

Is this so unusual? Birmingham also boasts an ecumenical theological training college (originally Anglican-Methodist). In the Anglican Communion as a whole, I would guess that most evangelicals wouldn’t hesitate to receive communion from a minister ordained or licensed in a non-Anglican evangelical church.

19 January 2013 17:21
22 April 2012 07:03
21 April 2012 19:29
21 April 2012 19:15
21 April 2012 18:24
Andy Ryland said...

Thanks for your response, and I am glad it is a teaser of a question as it must re a reality in some circumstances and it would be interesting to hear from the those where it is their experience.

Some thoughts in the mean time.

Is not the key issue reception ie the belief of the person receiving the bread and wine.

I would challenge angelicans to a attend a Baptist church one Sunday when communion is being celebrated and see if it makes a difference to them in terms of reception and their perception as to what is happening.

I have know alcoholic wine being used in a baptist communion in some circumstances and even a choice on offer.

There is also remarkable choice in a Baptist church on the choice of words that are used. Although the emphasise in my experience is on memorial and certainly not transubstantiation.

I have know both Baptist and C of E Churches pass the wine up and down the rows. I have also know Baptists go to the front to receive.

A final thought this am – the World Council of Churches recognises that there is no Biblical requirement for an ordained minister to preside – see para 14 which states “It is Christ who invites to the meal and who presides at it. In most churches this presidency is signified and represented by an ordained minister.” And in the commentary; “The New Testament says very little about the ordering of the eucharist. There is no explicit evidence about who presided at the eucharist…. ”

22 April 2012 08:51
UKViewer said...


There are a number of LEP’s in the UK, one such is at Sturry in Canterbury. Which is CofE/Methodist. I’m aware of others where URC/Baptist/CofE are involved.

A formal agreement is put in place, with one or other of the pastors being the Lead Pastor.

I’m aware that people worshipping in the LEP in Sturry are confirmed into both CofE and Methodist Churches and share Communion. Canon B43 contains the details.

Another useful link:

22 April 2012 15:44
Tim Chesterton said...

Laura, I wonder if I might give you an international perspective by quoting from a blog post I wrote a few months ago:

In the Diocese of the Arctic, where I ministered for seven years, there were in those days a number of what we would call in southern Canada ‘multi-point parishes’ – that is to say, parishes in which one full-time ordained priest looked after churches in two or three different communities. The reason for this was of course financial; there was not enough money to pay a full-time priest to live in each community. This situation is common in rural Canada, and in the south it isn’t too complicated; a priest becomes a road warrior who gets up on Sunday morning and drives between the communities of his or her parish, leading two or three services of Holy Communion in different places each week. The different congregations all fight for prime time, of course, which is a drawback (11.00 Sunday morning is always better attended than 3.00 Sunday afternoon), but for the most part the situation is workable, and parishes celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper frequently, if not every week.

In the Arctic, however, there was the added complication that the distances are much greater and the only way of getting between the communities is by air. This was ridiculously expensive and so, rather than the ‘out stations’ receiving communion every week or two at less convenient times, they actually received a visit from their priest three or four times a year, and when he or she came, they stayed for a week or more, visiting and catechising and administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion and so on (I should point out that this was the situation when I lived there twenty years ago; it may have changed since then).

Many of those out-stations actually had quite well-trained lay readers or catechists resident in the community: locally raised-up leaders who had received a pretty good preparation for the work of leading services of morning and evening prayer (which was the usual Sunday fare when the priest was not present), preaching and teaching and so on. For the most part these were well-respected local Christians. However, they had not been to seminary, and there was a long-established tradition in the Diocese of the Arctic (for reasons involving complicated family dynamics) that when a person was ordained they were not sent back to their own community as a priest. As a result, rather than the bishop giving permission for a perfectly competent local leader or leaders to preside at Holy Communion on a more frequent basis (which would be contrary to ancient ‘catholic’ tradition and practice), these communities became what we might call ‘occasionally sacramental’ – that is, their customary form of worship was Morning and Evening Prayer with sermon, and once a quarter or so a priest was flown in, at great expense, to provide sacramental ministry to the community.

The irony here is that this is the very kind of parish life that the Anglo-Catholic revival of the nineteenth century found so problematic. It was common in England in the early 1800s for churches to celebrate Holy Communion once a quarter, even though they had resident priests; it was the Anglo-Catholic revival (which insisted that Holy Communion was the only form of Sunday service instituted by Jesus) that aimed to change this. The high sacramental theology of Anglo-Catholicism insists that a weekly celebration of Holy Communion in each parish should be the Christian norm, and yet its high theology of priesthood in the apostolic succession (another feature of Anglo-Catholicism, but also one which all Anglican Christianity practices, whether it agrees with it in theory or not) coupled with the desire for a properly educated priesthood (hence the requirement in many places for a Master’s degree and a full- or part-time salary for the priest), have made such a weekly celebration impossible for many parishes around the world in the Anglican Communion – for my story about the Arctic could be duplicated in many parts of Africa and South America.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much Tim.
It is indeed very interesting to have this as an international perspective – I love the expression ‘road warrior’ which our clergy are unsurprisingly somewhat taken aback at having to become.
It seems we are behind the Arctic in England in that there is strong pressure to adopt the ‘occasionally sacramental’ model, with services of the word being taken the rest of the time by the laity (with what ever training can be scratched together). This would be my own preferred solution.
However, there is equally strong – perhaps stronger – pressure to simply close churches where there cannot be weekly communion services by a priest and to insist that people travel miles to worship at the scattered churches where it is possible to maintain a priest. I think this is unworkable for several reasons:
(a) parishioners are simply unwilling to worship ‘amid the alien corn’ of a neighbouring parish. Clergy are very scathing about this, but I would defend the attitude on the grounds that churchgoing is all about community. People feel part of the Body of Christ in the place where they live, amongst the people that they know well and where it is natural for them to exercise pastoral care for each other;
(b) If you only allow communion services in churches, led by the clergy (or acceptable substitutes), but there are only enough priests to go around for the celebration of communion, say once a month, the church building will wither and die. Services need to be held at least weekly in order to serve the community – if they cannot all be communion services, then so be it.

Tim Chesterton said...

Laura, I would agree with you that, if I had to choose between the presently available options, I would opt for more frequent ‘services of the Word’ (in whatever format) and a deliberate policy to strengthen our lay ministries (Lay Readers, as we still call them here). I myself would be in favour of lay presidency, but I don’t expect to see it any time soon. Also, I think that in a culture where we hope to attract more inquirers to Sunday services, regular non-eucharistic services are a great advantage. In my view, earlier generations of Anglicans had this right.

By the way, I think you are doing a great job on this website and I don’t comment very often (as a priest) because I think there’s enough clerical domination already!!!

23 April 2012 19:40
23 April 2012 16:38
23 April 2012 07:05
UKViewer said...

From what you say, the position in your particular parish in not compliant with the guidance. Perhaps the Bishop or Arch Deacon has ruled that this is the only way forward.

However, the consecrated elements should be consecrated at a service of Holy Communion held in that church – it sounds as if hundreds of wafers and perhaps pints of wine are being done and held as reserved. They must have an enormous Aumbry?

Lay Anglicana said...

Maybe our priest sought diocesan approval – but it is quite likely in our particular circumstances that he didn’t!
My guess is that the elements are consecrated at another church in the benefice and then collected by the lay worship leader for use in his church. Or I suppose the priest could be planning to take a service there every few months, and leave hundreds of wafers and pints of wine behind. I don’t think they have an aumbry at all, from memory – I expect it is being kept in the vestry?!

23 April 2012 15:22
23 April 2012 11:43

[…] Lay Anglicana Blog – “Could Lay Celebration Renew The Church of … […]

01 May 2012 23:06

Laura, I’ve read this with great interest. My response is to distinguish between two responses to decline. One is to make incremental changes to keep most of the show on the road at any one time. Most of the current debate is along these lines: allow more people to administer the Eucharist, etc. The other is more theoretical: to ask ourselves why we are doing all this at all, come up with some answers, and reorganise on the basis of those answers. Q 1: why have a Eucharist at all? My own view, following a number of New Testament scholars, is that it all began as a movement to feed the hungry. It is no accident that the food banks are nearly all run by churches. If we could reinvigorate that in all the churches, we’d generate opposition but people would see the point. The questions about ordination and reserved sacrament would then get answered on that basis. Q 2: why have Christianity at all? Since the religious wars Europe and North America have inherited a version of Christianity that has had its wings clipped. Anything important, and you mustn’t bring religion into it. As long as we accede to that, we’ll decline.

21 April 2016 08:22

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