Sunday 26 October 2008

Lay Presidency: 2 heads better than 1

Contradictory signals from down under, driven by gross ecclesiological revisionism about Eucharistic Lay Presidency. I’m confused, anyway, about the news from Sydney. The fatuous notion that “this will make the diaconate a real diaconate” demonstrates simple but complete ignorance of Catholic order. In those terms all the Sydney innovators’ proposals would do is make deacons, functionally, priests. This would obviously tend to obscure distinctively diaconal ministry. The C of E meets pastoral need from within a traditional understanding of Church, by authorizing Extended Communion. Cursing in fluent Kangaroo, as Dr Doolittle called it, is a non-traditional sport.

But has the time really come to trash the reformation formularies like this? The genius of Anglicanism, its missional crown jewels within the whole Kingdom of God, has been its ability to run essentially (but not exclusively) primitive Evangelical software on essentially (but not exclusively) primitive Catholic hardware. When this is done contextually, with real faith and passion, it’s a plenty powerful machine, plenty creative.

Cranmer, Hooker, Whitgift, Parker, Elizabeth I, consciously chose not to be a simple Zwinglian sect. Time may have come (really?) to ditch Hooker’s ecclesiology, reformat, and replace it with that of Travers the Bible Man. Doing this whilst banging on at everyone else about Anglican “orthodoxy” shows, at the least, a catastrophic failure of historical self-awareness.

Back last century, John Shelby Spong led the charge for lay presidency in his book Why Christianity must Change or Die. It looks as though this issue has now reached what one might call the Jensen Spong Vanishing Point. The whole matter was considered very fully by the 1998 Lambeth conference, which decisively rejected it. So 98 Lambeth 1:10 is to die for, and 98 Lambeth 3:22 is to dynamite. Simultaneously. Illogical, Captain?


Mike Peatman said...

There may be arguments for lay presidency, but they are not it!

Steve Hayes said...

I must say I'm finding it harder and harder to understand Anglican rhetoric. "Conservatives" excoriate "liberals" for being "revisionist" and wanting to abandon the "traditional" and "orthodox" Christian faith. Most seem to count the Sydney Anglicans among the "conservatives" -- but this is about as revisionist as you can get.

Sam Charles Norton said...

"the Jensen Spong Vanishing Point" - a beautiful skewering.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Er, yes Mike. Steve, I share your confusion, mate. As far as I know, you are both genuinely Orthodox and genuinely a deacon. I have no idea how telling you to go and preside at the Eucharist would make you a jot more of one or the other. Quite the reverse. There seem to be some rather confused bunnies about basic conventional ecclesiology down in the bottom right of Australia; and some rather desperate shuffling the pack, without understanding, for rhetorical trump cards...

Steve Hayes said...

Bishop Alan,

The confusion seems to extend a bit further than Australia, however.

I once served on a South African Anglican commission on the diaconate. Members of the commission travelled about the country at great expense, holding meetings and worked hard to compile a report. When the report was to be presented to the provincial synod, synod voted to proceed to the next business. Not only didn't they know what deacons are, they didn't want to know.

But I think some of those Australians should read Roland Allen.

David Keen said...

Great image about evangelical software on catholic hardware, sums it up beautifully.

This is a live issue in my neck of the words as we're looking to plant (lay) mission teams into new housing estates in partnership with several non-Anglican churches. With declining clergy numbers, we also desperately need a way of being church that isn't so vicar-dependent. How can the eucharist express and deepend the life of these missional Christian communities without needing to bus in a vicar?

What happens to our debates if you put missiology before ecclesiology? I can see all the logic of clerical presidency if ecclesiology is all you have to go on, but I've not really seen an argument for clerical presidency which makes sense from a missional perspective. Or maybe I just tranced out in liturgy seminars (easily done).

Tim Chesterton said...

I'm trying to lay my hands on the quote from Archbishop William Temple in which he says something like this: 'The law that says a priest must preside at the Holy Communion may be a wise law, but we must remember that it is a law of man, not of God'.

I share David's concerns. I spent seven years in the Diocese of the Arctic, where travel by air between communities was highly expensive, but there was never enough money to pay a seminary-trained full-time priest in every community. Consequently, a significant number of congregations were under the care of lay readers and catechists and had communion once a quarter when the priest was able to fly in for a week or so.

Is that Catholic order? I think not. Is 'reserved sacrament' as the regular Sunday service a solution? I think not - how can we 'remember his death until he comes' every Sunday while omitting the part of the service that specifically remembers his death?

It seems that institutional Anglicanism (at least in our country) is finding it very difficult to kick its addiction to the full-time seminary trained model of priesthood. Meanwhile, in vast numbers of rural and isolated parishes in our country, the model is becoming increasingly irrelevant, expensive, and top-heavy. Meanwhile other denominations, whose ecclesiology allows them to be far more flexible about these matters, are able to provide pastoral ministry which is far more responsive to the actual situations that congregations find themselves in.

I agree with David - let's put missiology first. We might get different answer if we do.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks for some great thoughts and reorientations...

Steve, I was most struck when I visited our colleagues in Växjö by the far more developed Swedish process of thinking through diaconal ministry, compared to the C of E, at any rate. I have a hunch we lose out in all sorts of ways by having such a partial and attenuated concept of diaconate. And thanks for the reference to Roland Allen (Good Buckinghamshire Vicar). Her's one of those missiologists whose thought we are still trying to digest and oncorprate as gift into our common consciousness, but I never read him without a light going on somewhere in my head, with an instant recognition that he seems to have arrived at places the rest of us never achieved until the 90's, back in 1910! A giant, up with John V Taylor and Vincent Donovan. I must read a bit and post on him sommetime...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

David, thanks for bringing this question on into a mission context. I agree with you it needs thinking through this way, if it has to be raised in the first place. Thanks, Tim for reinforcing the point, which I'm sure is worth at least a posting from all three of us in its own right, sometime! :)

Some preliminary kneejerks: The Church is a delivery system for the Kingdom, and the clergy enablers for the Church. I share your pretty total abhorrence for vicar dependence and all its works, including its English handmaidens, infantilisation, low accountability, and inertia. Strangely enough the most conventional and minister dependent part of my area is MK, in the Ecumenical partnership. I don't think that was intended by the designers, just the way it's worked out, partly because the method in the city was to put in a largely structural scheme of ecumenism, modelled on good practice 20 years ago, and set in concrete. 20 years on, we have many small and struggling congregations. With the help of a brilliant Ecumenical moderator, who brings Creative and thoughtful Baptist ecclesiology to the party, there has been a comprehensive review of where we really are now, and I do have real hope.

As a historian I would also have to warn, with great regret, that the fastest and most catastrophic decline in the UK has been in a Church with lay presidency. I don't think those two realities are directly related, but this fact leads me to think lay presidence is unlikely to fix what's wrong with the C of E.

I think what makes or breaks us missionally is not so much structure, as process — I can take you to thriving growing congregations with various functional structural routines within the general loose framework of the C of E. But all of them have process points in common, which have nothing to do with structure. As a bishop, I believe my mission has to be about trying to find and enact the Evangelical software/Catholic hardware thing in a way which is missional and genuinely unlocks giftedness in other people; encourage people, support them, then get out of their way. Intense wrangling arising from ecclesiolgical tinkering exrecises doesn't help that process to happen. Indeed where we have been doing it for years there is a consistent pattern of decline testifying to its ineffectiveness. Outward focus does not easily survive a lot of tinkering with the works. Intriguingly the only consistent growth points in the UK are Black led churches with their intensely layered, even authoritarian ministry structures, but strong every member ministry, and Cathedrals. Sadly, perhaps, there has been very sad decline amongst denominations with lay presidency. The thriving churches of Africa, of course, have not delayered in this way, but are still running on classic hardware. Doing so in England creates mission opportunities as well as obstructing them. Choices about how we run our software may be up to us more than we find it comfortable to admit... and the real battles for me are about process not structure.

Sorry, this isn't a rant just an observation arising from the wonderfully helpful and significant dimension you've raised.

Tim Chesterton said...

Alan, for what it's worth, the fastest growing churches I know of in Canada are churches in which the term 'lay presidency' would make no sense whatsoever - because the distinction between clergy and laity is unknown. Mind you, to be fair, the issue doesn't come up very often among them because of their infrequent celebrations of the Eucharist!

I'd still like to know what an appropriate pastoral response would be to the situations David and I raised.

Oh, and you're not on a rant! David is getting 'ranted at' over at Thinking Anglicans, but you, as usual are gracious and gentle!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello all - I am one person who does think that in some circumstances lay presidency would be a good thing - but only with the ground work of good training and preparation. I don't see anywhere in the scriptures where we need a priest to celebrate the Eucharist - although (gees I hate it when I think as I type) Jesus as the institutor of the Eucharist is our High Priest so there is some precedence I guess.

Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost in their brilliant book The Shaping of Things to Come argue that Missiology should be shaped by our Christology and so the diagram goes - Christology - Missiology - Ecclesiology:

Our Christology informs our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology. If we get this the wrong way around and allow our notions of the church to qualify our sense of purpose and mission, we can never be disciples of Jesus, and we will never be an authentic missional church. Churches that have got this basic formula wrong never really engage in mission and so lose touch with Jesus. These churches spend all their time discussing (or arguing) about the forms of worship, the church furniture, and the timing of services and programs, and fail to recognize that our ecclesiology flows more naturally out of our sense of mission. These churches become closed sets as a result, and their experience of Jesus at the center fades into a memory of the time when they were really doing something. It becomes a matter of history rather than an experience of mission now. It is important to recover the idea that the church connects with Jesus through mission, not through getting church meetings right!

I think that certainly lay presidency should not go ahead in Sydney until it is talked through much more by the Anglican Communion. I liked the way you ended the post + Alan: So 98 Lambeth 1:10 is to die for, and 98 Lambeth 3:22 is to dynamite. Simultaneously. Shome mishtake?



Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If I'm one of few Anglicans who has done truly lay presidency - it's because I did this when Unitarian in a congregation, a service that did not work because in that context it was too divisive anyway (despite liaising).

My first view is really that the arguments for limiting who can carry out a eucharistic service is a form of trade unionism, that the old arguments for reserving it to a clerical class are supernatural and even superstitious and rather bust. But my second view is that it comes with some sort of competence and overview, and that each Church (i.e. denomination) has a way of supplying that competence and overview. It would be disturbing of many in the Anglican scene if anyone could just pop on some religious looking clothing (or indeed not bother) and do the stuff. And the trade unionism gives the actions and words a limitation that suggests an importance to the ritual.

An issue is how long and to what depth (for the overview) does someone need to be trained in order to do this job competently.

Then again, it raises the ritual when it is combined with those who do a range of pastoral and communal duties, which need training, who are foci of several 'operations' in the religious sphere.

I just wonder how thin my arguments are. I don't arrive at the possibility of lay presidency via Jensen's route at all. But that's only like saying traditionalist Protestants are as dogmatic as traditionalist Catholics. So what?

In general my argument is that traditions and continuities are important, and what is recognised helps what you do. But it is not a very good argument.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Aaargh! drowning in fantastic thoughtful comment that actually helps real thinking move forward to better places — thanks so much!

Tim, I think that in the background what I'm wanting to add to the mix, having read your comment is a dissatisfaction witht he whole clergy/ laity as seperate caste thing. We have written it into UK church life big time, like first and second class rail travel, especially since the eclipse of peasant clergy in Victorian times. The bad story is that we're stuck with many of the cultural assumptions that go with it. The good one is that we can play with it, poke gentle fun at it, and generally enjoy it, as long as we don;t start taking it seriously. It's existence does represent one place at which the churches currently get their crampons into the great Rocky Jelly of English society.

I'm very interested in churches without clergy, and that's one of the reasons I have involved myself with Willow Creek down the years. I have to say I end up seeing it as a laboratory of the spirit, rather than a main street building. It's interesting how it's plateaud of late. Remembering classic threads a few years ago on the ship of fools website, I have to confess also that there are churches without clergy where the very fact everything is unacknowledged increases the chance of abuse. Some of them heave with politics and elitism; they just haven't (yet) got round to declaring it, taming it, and making it accountable to the whole body, by naming it within their structure. Interestingly many of the great explosion churches of the nineties are now struggling, partly because people experience the implicit nature of their authority structures as unaccountability.

I suppose what's in my mind at this point in the discussion is clearly defined, but servant ministry structures, with public visibility, to which there's reasonably open access (to stop the Victorian caste phenomenon). And as a historian (an historian?!) I notice that all churches seem to evolve developed structures in their time, that reflect the sociology of their context. Threefold order has emerged over 1900 years as a really powerful model, though not the only one.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Adrian, thank you for your unique perspective, which opens all kinds of doors in different directions for me about ministry.

I'm wondering what the corelation is between exploding outward in all directions at once, and the strength you need at the centre to hold an explosion.

I'd want to see the whole ordiation game as facilitating not limiting. I'd want to say that whether it is one or the other depends largely on the behaviour and attitudes of the people we ordain. Clerical trade unionism sounds a bit yukky to me, and I agree that part of the driving force behind it is superstition; at its best it articulates, canalises and deloys to good effect what's going on in us. When it turns back on the Church, however, it quickly becomes toxic, like one of those disease where your immune system takes over and starts destroying your body (I know I've probably got the whole physiology of that wrong).

Training and competence can be secured in all sorts of ways, I know. Again I'm love/hate about the way we've done it. I'm simultaneously worried about clergy who did the OT in eight essays, and delighted we were able to ordain them. I'm simultaneously delihgted to meet people on our ministry course, and horrified when ten years later some reject training as a way of life!

And when I reflect on your last para, I am left feeling ordaining clergy is a Good Thing as an articulation of the tradition — done with a light touch, the laying on of hands within a succession (as per the pastoral epistles) has been a means of messy quality assurance, and a historical linkage which carries potential accountability. It's a Bad Thing if it is allowed to predominate entirely — over professionalised or Voodoo’d up to the point it begins to take over people's consciousness of what the Church is or what ministry is. How we do it is more important than the fact we do it, perhaps? God has allowed and encouraged the growth alongside the main model of occasional completely flat ministry set-ups (like the Quakers) as well as alternative hierarchical models (like the Vineyard — implicit or Salvation Army — explicit), so as to preserve the whole body from becoming reduced to the set of Father Ted... ! ?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Aaargh! Still drowning, Greg. It was only running down the box I spotted again your brilliant quote from Hirsch and Frost. The whole question of who's doing what why seems to me crucial to the structuring and public expression of ministry models and leadership in the Church. It makes me realise that one reason I'm dissatisfied with the Sydney debate is that it represents, on an idiot level (and I'm a bit of an idiot about it) an attempt to construct mission out of forms of ministry which in my mind are infrastructural rather than primary. Long ago Michael Ramsey pointed out (the Gospel and the Catholic Church) that the Church is part of its own message of salvation, so how we order our life does have a bearing on primary mission; but sitting round in circles like I iused to do with my mates at Wycliffe thirty years ago, dong animé discussions on wearing of dog collars etc., failed to deliver missional renewal, it must be said, and strikes me now as something of a distraction activity. If we got a lot more focussed about mission, I'd be open to new structures that grew out of that greater focus. Perhaps Fresh Expressions will deliver this to the whole Church of England. I hope so. If we get focussed on internal structure questions, I very much doubt that will yield an exciting new mission focus. Companies sometimes need to restrcuture; but without clear reasons for doing so, they can bankruptnthemselves ont eh energy they put into their internal affairs.

Finally, as a member of the clergy, I regard myself as being very much part of the laos, the holy common people of God. There is a sense in which I am just another punter, and priests and bishops need to remember that. Whether it's Victorian professionalization or Marxist analysis driving Caste thinking, I think the result sucks.

Tim, I've scribbled for as long as I've got without engaging with your and David's exceptional circumstances. My instinct is to be "holy-pragmatic" about that sort of thing. If you're stuck on a desert island, do the sensible thing and break bread — don't wait for a ship to come along with an episcopally ordained priest or bishop. If God wanted you to have one of those he'd have put them on your lifeboat in the first place. But, like Jazz, the room to innovate comes from firm anchor points. Without firm eight bar underpinning, you can't do much jazz...

Tim Chesterton said...

This is a great discussion, thanks everyone.

Alan, with all due respect, what we're talking about in rural ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada is not a temporary desert island experience. I think of parishes (in English, read 'benefices' - a very strange word, IMHO!) on the eastern side of our diocese where there are four or five congregations, with enormous distances in between them (when I was rector of Emmanuel Parish of East Smoky in the Diocese of Athabasca my three points were fifty and thirty-two miles apart, respectively), and in which the financial resources to pay a full time priest just aren't there. Traditional, seminary-trained, full-time ordained ministry is a financial millstone around their necks; the entire parish life is taken up with having fund-raisers to pay the priest.

Now - I'm not talking about a short-term solution, I'm talking about a long-term strategy here. And I agree that it's not just lay-presidency we're talking about, it's the ministry of the whole people of God, mutual ministry, and so on. But how do you make that happen, and how do you enable a weekly celebration of the Eucharist in those communities without ending up with a dead priest and a bankrupt parish?

Seems to me you have two choices. You can raise up locally ordained ministry with minimal seminary training, or you can license the lay readers (who are already the recognised spiritual leaders in congregations where most clergy come and go every three or four years) to preside at the Eucharist. In both cases, of course, concerns about professional competence will be raised. But the current practice is not preserving catholic order - it's contributing to parish and clergy burnout and collapse. So what's the alternative?

Anonymous said...

This post and the comments remind me very strongly of the story of the ordination of Florence Li Tim Oi (the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican communion). This arose out of pastoral need/mission as in WWII she was the only person able to minister to the Chinese Christian community in Macao. Bishop RO Hall felt it was more "regular" to ordain her than to leave her being "authorized" to administer communion to the congregation she cared for without ordination - but he also recognised the priestly charism in her.
Perhaps we don't look for this charism enough and get stuck on ability to study/fit the institution's needs of a genration ago (though Florence Li tim Oi had previously studied with men clergy).
It seems there is something about accountablity and obedience to the whole church in presiding at a eucharist..... but whether we are imaginative enough in who is ordained as a priest is another question. I have the feeling that the Spirit calls the "right" people when there is need - but structures don't always recognise those who are being called.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Rosalind, many, many thanks for bringing in the concept of "Charism" and the Florence Li Tim Oi experience (incidentally I am immensely proud and delighted that one of our retired clergy in Bucks is the Revd Joyce Bennett). As I implied in thinking through how I felt about Tim's Canadian experience, I'd like historic constraints to trigger creativity rather than lifeboat mentalities. I'm sure what we do now sometimes reinforces lifeboat mentalities, but I'm concerned these would simply express themselves some other way if we rejoggered the ancient geometry around ministry. That certainly seems to be the experience of colleague UK churches that have experienced big long-term decline notwithstanding their willingness to allow lay presidency.

I also want to protest the idea that the ordained must be considered a different species from the laity. The Eucharist is presided here by laypeople selected, trained and authorized by the bishop. We call them priests. Even in a simple hierarchy like the army (which this ain't) everybody is a member of the same outfit, regardless of rank! I want to underline I don't think of ordination as being the equivalent of rank in the army — I actually believe what it says in our ordinal! Still, even that context challenges some of the "us and them" mentality that attaches sometimes to clergy. I want to underline what i said above that although I am a bishop, there are significant respects in which I should consider myself to be simply a punter like everyone else, and forgetting this would make me a worse disciple. You can only be as effective a clergyperson as you are Christian disciple, and only as effective a disciple as you are human being... !

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Tim, there's lots of liking and respect between us — far more than is merely due! Thanks for talking turkey a bit about your experience in Canada.

I realise distances are far greater than in the UK; and I share some disturbance about the definition of a mission community around the capacity to support a priest (is that what benefices imply?); shouldn't that be the other way round?

But why full time? Why seminary trained? More than half our clergy are neither. We do echo your experience a bit about the burden of Quota on small congregations, and, I'd be all for re-scoping what that's about and how it's resourced. In addition, now that more than half my 324 clergy in Bucks are non-stipendiary, I am always trying to get people to tell me what exacly a stipend is — what is it some clergy are paid for (a diagnostic rather than hostile question). I'm not sure I always get a particularly theologically coherent or thought-through reply! I once invented a wacky scheme that never happened for making all clergy house for duty, with additional contracts specifying exactly what work they were "employed" to do, on a deanery basis. Never got anywhere with it, though. I still think it was an idea with merit...

In short, here we have somewhat disconnected from the seminary/ full time model, and that has helped us immensely. I have also noticed, historically, another phenomenon. James I, King of Scotland, made up all Scottish benefices to what he though would be an early seventeenth century living wage — £20, I think. the same never happened in England. That use of peasant semi stipendiary clergy before the nineteenth century, and pluralism, meant ministry here was never entirely about the single resident parson about which some people fantasize. The message I have to parishes is "If you want clergy you'll have to grow them, and they probably won't be paid, unless there's a good reason why they should be."

But functional concerns about who we ordain can be sorted pragmatically, and doesn't, IMHO outweigh the advantage of expressing a three fold tradition of ministry.

Finally, when I worked for a while part time in the design industry (boring things like contact lens containers) the constraints of a brief were actually what unlocked the genuine creativity; releasing constraints actually made worse designs!

In brief I'd be very creative and wacky about how we ordain and who we ordain, thereby pushing our process boundries and assumptions about ordained ministry, but I'm, at heart, not convinced we've entirely used up the resources locked up within the basic ancient ecclesiological hardware on which we run, because I see vibrant communities all around me where they have turned constraints to creative use. I do realise and respect that other people don't have this experience!

Stephan Clark said...

There may be a point forgotten here; that 'lay administration' as proposed by the Jensens may not just be about freeing up deacons or empowering lay people...iut may indeed be a an attack on Katholick order with a capital K.
I think it is difficult for those outside Australia to appreciate just how anti-catholic the Diocese of Sydney is. Its flagship organization the Anglican Church League (here seems slightly to right of Ian Paisley.
There is no suggestion that the narrow focus on the ministry of preaching will be delegated to deacons, women or lay persons in general.
This is about devaluing the Eucharistic focus of the wider church in favour of a very, very Sydney world-view

liturgy said...

This is a central point in my blog post, Stephen, at
or try
I twice quote with acknowledgement Bishop Alan's wise points from here
and placed a comment to that effect here
but it appears to be lost in cyberspace.



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