Sunday, 21 May 2006

weekend opinions

No cinema reviews here.

In The Times Stephen Plant Hope for the hereafter nourishes the urge to live better in a grime present

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse The lives and souls of the nation

In the Guardian Alec Gilmore writes in Face to Faith about religious liberty.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser writes about The subtle sin of lay presidency

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 21 May 2006 at 5:27pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I'm still not sure why liberals seem so antagonistic to lay presidency ? Surely in some ways it could be seen as breaking down one more "anachronistic discrimination" which isn't even sanctioned by Scripture !? (unless anyone can tell me where Jesus or any NT writer ever said that it must be an elder/presbyter/shepherd/bishop who presides at the "Lord's Supper" - as I think it is usually refered to in the NT.)

So, could it just be because it is Sydney Archdiocese ? Sydney is highly successful, growing, attracting talent, and exporting their brand of radical conservative Christianity. Certainly a threat to liberal power in the higher echelons in Australia and the "West".. The knives are out for ABp Jensen - who has lead Sydney in this great success. If, as is quite likely, he becomes Primate of Australia in 2007, the other Archdioceses might also be afflicted with successful church growth - but of the "wrong kind" according to liberals - who pay only lip-service to Anglicanism being a comprehensive church.

Or could it be that priestly power is seen crucial to ensuring liberal orthodoxy ? If you can't rely on the authority of Scripture to support "New Christianity" then you are just left with the heirarchical authority of the priests and bishops. Controlling access to "communion" gives an outward semblance of power - at least in the eyes of the naive!

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 21 May 2006 at 7:41pm BST

A point about Giles Fraser's article. I used to attend Emmanuel Wimbledon but left as I increasingly discovered that I was too high church. Despite claiming ultra protestant crudentials, lay presidency has never ever been allowed by the Church of England, even in its 'officially' Calvinist days of the late 16th century. Clergy were pretty much automatically suspended. I have great respect for Jonathan Fletcher as a man and as someone whom I know to have inspired many to come to Christ. However. he swore obedience at his ordination, and, whether he likes it or not, Canon Law is Canon Law. All of us, 'liberal', 'conservative' or whatever, should adhere to it or face the consequenses.

Posted by: Edward on Sunday, 21 May 2006 at 8:40pm BST

ps I notice that the 39 Articles ban on celebrating the Lord's Supper also touches preaching !

Article 23: "It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching or ministering the sacraments in the congregation, before he be lawfully called and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard."

So, would Giles Fraser so vehemently decry the invention of Lay Preachers ? If not, what is the difference.... the importance of what is being done, or just who it is who wants to do it ?

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 21 May 2006 at 11:07pm BST


I would say that liberals may be as evenly divided as any other group on the issue of lay presidency. I live in a conservative parish and attended a middle of the road seminary, I would say the opinions for and against covered the spectrum. Certainly, the fact that Sydney supported it came up but never in the terms that you are suggesting. Considering that most liberals consider a power with rather than power over scenario, I would disagree with your premise about their desire/need for a heirarchal authority. Being a liberal priest myself, I can honestly say that priestly power is not a priority or even on the radar as far as my ministry is concerned. It's more a journeying with the people.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Posted by: Ann Marie on Sunday, 21 May 2006 at 11:18pm BST

Reading Giles Fraser's article left me with the impression that Reform is keen on lay presidency and has already found ways of getting round the regulations. Having checked out their website, I think this impression was wrong. So here is a footnote to the article from someone who is neither a member of Reform nor indeed in favour of introducing lay presidency in the Church of England:

The page on the Reform website which gave rise to Fraser's claim that it "offers handy hints on how to “circumvent” the regulations" is a paper by Donald Allister (the Archdeacon of Chester, if my google search brought up the right man), written well over ten years ago and published on the Reform website as a discussion paper for which the author alone is responsible.

Overall I am not persuaded by this discussion paper but you don't have to be an "evangelical" to agree with Donald Allister that our separation of the ministry of the word from the ministry of the sacrament is problematic.

Donald Allister, among more theological reasons, points to the shortage of clergy in many parts of the country and argues that we should permit deacons and readers to preside at the Eucharist, when no priest is present. I don't think this suggestion is altogether outrageous - even if it is not the way forward.

As for the conspiracy theory which gave rise to the "very subtle and very sinful" charge which feeds into the title of the essay: Give me a break! (And, no, I am not opposed to the ordination of women.)

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 11:02am BST

If, as Giles Fraser's article suggests, for a lay person to preside at the Lord's Table is a sin, albeit a subtle one, then where does that leave Pentecostalists, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Plymouth Brethren and all the rest? Are all these denominations, deep in subtle sin, also involved in "a blatant attempt to undermine the historic ministry of the Church", or is it perhaps not that sinful after all to share around the Lord's Table without an episcopally ordained priest?

Posted by: John Simmons on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 2:56pm BST

Just for clarification. I didn't say lay presidency was sinful.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 6:14pm BST

Ah, John Simmons, you said exactly what I was thinking! All those times I received communion in non-Anglican churches I was subtly sinning....
Methinks the voice of 'Inclusive Church' (!) strains at an institutional gnat while he swallows a biblical camel.

Dave: 'Lay Preachers' in Anglicanism (readers) are in fact publicly called. And if it is right to have readers preaching, then they should be celebrating communion as well. (To be honest, I would prefer it if more celebrated than preached!)

Posted by: Peter Bergman on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 6:32pm BST

'Just for clarification. I didn't say lay presidency was sinful.'

Is the headline someone else's, Giles? You did quote Roger Herft. BTW, the Act of Uniformity has no legal force in Australia or any of the former colonies. You have lambasted 'fundamentalists' before. What should a good postmodern guy say about canonical or institutional fundamentalism? No hermeneutic of suspicion here?
BTW again, the sacred writ of the Act of Uniformity was used to drive dissenters out of the C of E and to put John Bunyan in prison for years. I thought it rather gracious of that Baptist lady in England to send a postcard of John Bunyan to Terry Waite in vinculis.

Posted by: Peter Bergman on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 7:33pm BST

Ann Marie wrote: "I would say that liberals may be as evenly divided as any other group on the issue of lay presidency."

Dear Ann Marie, that is what I suspected (having been in liberal groups as a student).

As Giles has just poínted out, he wasn't attacking lay presidency as such. He was using it as an issue to attack the church groups (Sydney and Reform) that he accuses of undermining true authority in the Church.

Blackening their name at this point would potentially make it easier to ignore their success and needs (for instance their need for adequate provision in the forthcoming debate on women bishops).

However, "undermining true authority" is exactly the accusation that I would level at Giles' organisation - Changing Attitudes. CA is in my view blatantly attempting to undermine the faith, values and morality of the Church. I am surprised that ABp Williams has not withdrawn as a trustee !

Posted by: Dave on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 8:00pm BST

My last parish before seminary had a very liberal priest-in-charge who was a vocal advocate for lay presidency and pushed the envelope a bit (he allowed lay readers to distribute communion from the reserved Sacrament on Sundays when he was away).

So it's not a liberal/conservative thing. Indeed, I know a good many traditionalists who are quite appalled by the suggestion.

The real issue is the roles of ordained and lay in the priesthood of all believers, and a little bit of debate over the issue is helpful in educating people and helping to clarify thinking over those roles.

Posted by: Jim Pratt on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 9:18pm BST

Giles Fraser: "Just for clarification. I didn't say lay presidency was sinful."

What was the subtle sin you were referring to, and who is the one commiting it?

Posted by: Andy on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 11:30pm BST

Giles Fraser is not connected with Changing Attitude. Giles Fraser is connected with Inclusive Cburch. Abp Williams is a trustee of neither organisation. Dave, please try to reduce the number of errors per comment :-)

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 11:38pm BST

Giles Fraser did not say that each and every instance of lay presidency is sinful but his column wasn't very subtle and I am not surprised that he has been read as saying as much.

The idea that Sydney Anglicans are in favour of lay presidency because they are opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood was Roger Herft's, as Giles Fraser acknowledged in his column (cf.

If I understand Roger Herft correctly, the sinfulness lies in the (hidden) motives of Sydney Anglicans. And if I read Giles Fraser correctly, he suspects those same motives in "churches such as Emmanuel, Wimbledon" which apparently/allegedly practise lay presidency.

Maybe he is right, maybe he is not. Donald Allister's discussion paper on the Reform web site seemed to me to reflect genuine concerns and considerations which have nothing to do with the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Monday, 22 May 2006 at 11:55pm BST

Simon - Dave was probably misled by the appearance of a certain "Rowan Williams" in the list of trustees of CA, see The majority of the names listed there are prefixed by "The Revd", from which one may conclude that this is a different "Rowan Williams"...

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 12:05am BST


Comment writers have no input into the headline. That is a construction of the sub-editor. The subtle sin line is a quote from the Bp of Newcastle referring to the way in which Sydney seeks to undermine the authority of women in the church.

Posted by: Giles Fraser on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 8:33am BST

I think that it was pretty clear that Dr Fraser was not calling lay celebration a sin, but rather Sydney's introduction of the novelty at this time. I have partial sympathy with his argument. (As a rather more "traditional" spike than Dr Fraser, I might be a bit more tempted to say that lay celebration IS a sin.)

I think that the idea of the legitimacy of lay celebration is a longstanding Sydney "thing". Some time ago I saw a persuasive argument that much of the Sydney interpretation of Anglicanism is based on the theoretical and speculative writings of C of E divines of the 16th century, irrespective of whether those theories and speculations have been put into practice anywhere else.

Sydney has long "held off" from introducing the innovation in the interest of maintaining Anglican unity. I think that it would now regard Anglican unity as shattered by other novelties (of which Dr Fraser would approve, hence my "partial" sympathy with him). Consequently, it sees no point in refraining any further. That it would begin lay celebration has been the subject of speculation for some time.

For anyone claiming to be a Catholic, lay celebration is much more a "communion-breaking" issue than the ordination of gay men as priests or bishops.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 2:02pm BST

Thomas Renz: "If I understand Roger Herft correctly, the sinfulness lies in the (hidden) motives of Sydney Anglicans. And if I read Giles Fraser correctly, he suspects those same motives in "churches such as Emmanuel, Wimbledon" which apparently/allegedly practise lay presidency."

I've been attending Emmanuel Wimbledon ( for the last 3-4 years. IIRC, the story is that lay presidency began during the long interregnum before Jonathan Fletcher came in 1982, and has been practiced ever since. So those motives certainly don't apply to Emmanuel's practice.

Posted by: Andy on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 4:17pm BST

As someone from Sydney diocese, it is interesting to note that from my observations the introduction of lay presidency has not changed their perspective on women. Only men are invited to assist with the communion in my parish, but they do insist on an ordained minister to consecrate the bread and wine.

The other thing I would comment on, and in this sense agree with some of the reasoning for lay presidency, is that the sharing of wine and bread was going on from Jesus' last supper; decades before formal church structures and centuries before Protestantism.

There was an interesting World Council of Churches paper that I read several months ago, that also asked whether it needs to be bread and wine per se. This was being raised in the context of cultural imposition and practicalities e.g. taro is substituted some SE Asian islands. Thus these services are honouring the intent of the Word, but substitute the form with what is practically at hand.

This also has a ripple in terms of biblical imagery. The bread of life means what to a soul that has never seen bread? (Let alone been dependent on it as a staple food source e.g. asian nations that thrive on steamed rice).

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 6:51pm BST

Simon wrote: "Giles Fraser is not connected with Changing Attitude. Giles Fraser is connected with Inclusive Cburch. Abp Williams is a trustee of neither organisation. Dave, please try to reduce the number of errors per comment :-)"

Dear Simon, Oops - I stand corrected.. Maybe it's a record ?! In slight mitigation - I got the idea that it is *ABp* Rowan Williams who is a trustee of CA from one of the recent articles on Anglican Mainstrean about Bp John Gladwin's associations (or not) with Gay Campaign groups, and his current problems in Kenya...

Giles is, as you rightly say, Chair of IC. The Director of CA is Colin Coward. However I think that is slightly inaccurate to say that "Giles Fraser is not connected with Changing Attitude"... Colin spoke at the inauguration of IC:, and Giles and Colin Coward were joint lead signatories of a letter to the Grauniad last year:,3604,1402112,00.html and

Posted by: Dave on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 8:51pm BST

Hey Dave,
As an out, gay Priest, I have bridled often at your observations but have had to admire the fairness and patience [most of the time] in putting forward your views. Your opening comments elicited a great laugh for me as I hooted 'good for you Dave, don't let them get away with a thing!'

I for one am not overly exercised about lay presidency and as one observer noted I would rather see lay people preside at the mysteries of the Lord's Supper than have untrained preachers. Much less danger in someone having to follow a prescribed text than the mischief that can be done by a free range in the pulpit.

Having said all that however, Acts 6 does seem to indicate that only the apostles [overseers] presided over the Holy meal and then including those appointed by them. These were apparently Deacons and later Presbyters came into the picture. This, among other things, tells me that the development of order and of theology continued after the writings which became our Scripture, and continues under the Inspiration of the spirit to the present day.

I for one am quite content to be in communion with anyone who owns Jesus as Lord allowing for a huge diversity of what that means to different people. The conversations in the family must continue however taxing we may at times find them. In these conversations we need to stay focused on the issues at hand rather than judging each others motivation.


Posted by: Bob on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 8:55pm BST

Dear Cheryl, "lay presidency" is lay people consecrating the sacraments (ie leading the liturgy)... not just helping to dispense the sacraments - we've been doing that for years all over the CofE.

Posted by: Dave on Tuesday, 23 May 2006 at 11:23pm BST

I would much rather there be lay people voting at *Primates* meetings (one "Prime Lay Member" per national church/Primate? Hopefully, PLMs to be elected by other lay people?), than either celebrating OR preaching!

[With the caveat that I am a lay person who has preached before. What can I say? My soon-to-vacation priest begged... ;-)]

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 24 May 2006 at 2:47am BST
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