I received a comment overnight on the thread to yesterday's post, LET THEM GET ON WITH IT! For some reason its author removed it, which is a shame because it contained a very good question: Would my "live and let live" suggestion allow lay presidency at the Eucharist?" Without revealing the identity of the person who posed this question I will try to answer it.

Firstly, I would emphasise that I'm not recommending a free for all. That would be silly and we are quite capable of using our common sense when deciding what local practices should be censured and which ones should be allowed. For example, if a local church wanted to replace its Sunday morning Eucharist with a lap dancing session, this may do wonders for the financial standing of that church but, the thing is, it would no longer be a church. It would be a lap dancing club.

However, even turning a church building into a sex club is not a doctrinal matter in my opinion, and nor are same sex marriages, women bishops and lay presidency. These are all ecclesial matters. But, I would suggest that there is a difference in type between, on the one hand, same sex marriage and women bishops and, on the other hand, lay presidency. The former are merely extensions of something the Church already does. The latter would be a distinctly new thing that would turn the Anglican Church into something distinctly different in the same way as getting rid of bishops would.

Not that such a change would matter to God. Jesus instituted the holy communion but he did not institute the offices of the Church. At the beginning of the Christian religion there were no priests or bishops. Then there was a period when either priests and bishops were the same thing or some regional churches had priests and some bishops. What these priests and bishops did in respect of holy communion is not known. The offices of the Catholic church developed over time as did the duties of the officers. And the episcopal system is not universal. Many denominations do not insist that an ordained priest presides at the Eucharist. Personally I do not dismiss the efficacy of sacraments conducted in such churches. But the church order of the Anglican Communion is based on the three fold ordained ministry. I am not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing but it is one of the things that gives an Anglican church it's identity and makes it different from some other denominations.

Therefore, deciding to allow churches that want to instigate lay presidency to do so would be a far bigger and more important decision for the Anglican Communion than allowing churches to marry same sex couples or ordaining women to the episcopate because it would alter the structure of the Church and significantly change its presenting identity.

But this is not to say lay presidency should never be allowed. There is a significant number of local churches that would like to see the Anglican Communion allowing the practice and it will be something that is discussed seriously, probably as soon as we sort out our present disagreements. If lay presidency is eventually allowed (and I do mean allowed - same sex marriage and women bishops have to be allowed as well - I'm not suggesting that we all just do what we like when we like) then I would consider any churches that adopt the practice to be as Anglican as I am. In fact, and this is purely a personal thing, I would be more comfortable taking communion from a female member of the Anglican laity than from a male priest who believes that women can only have a subservient role in the church.

Finally, I do have one practical suggestion. Communion by extension should be allowed at the discretion of parish priests (or their equivalent in provinces without a parish system). I see absolutely no reason why the elements of holy communion that have been prayed over by an ordained priest should not be administered by a member of the laity who has their congregation's permission to do so. This simple change, which is catholic and which has been practiced in various places and situations for two thousand years, would allow our Church to remain active anywhere there was a member of the Church. To refuse to offer the holy sacrament in certain places just because there isn't a priest around to offer it in person is denying people the body and blood of Christ and his real presence among them. As communion by extension is very much just a matter of church order it is, in my opinion, an abomination that we are still arguing over whether or not it should become common practice. And for goodness sake, we are already doing it whenever a member of the laity takes the sacrament to a housebound member of the Church.

Perhaps the allowance of communion by extension should be the next step the Anglican Communion takes before it even begins to consider the issue of lay presidency.



  1. Lots to talk about here!

    When I broke my leg a couple of years ago and could not get to church, our vicar was too busy to come himself (which I understood) but refused to allow one of the lay worship leaders in the benefice to bring me the sacrament. The reason he gave was that they would need to be authorised by the bishop. (This I did not understand – then authorise them, dear Lisa, dear Lisa…)

    For me the problem with lay presidency is transubstantiation. If you believe that the wafer/bread and wine only *represent* the body and blood of Christ, then I suppose anyone could distribute them, though you might need to alter the liturgy. On the Ship of Fools in a discussion to what happened to the left-over bread, someone said they threw it onto the ground for the birds.

    But that is not, as they say, where I am coming from. Communion by extension I find absolutely acceptable, but I would find lay presidency meaningless. However, where there is no priest for a service, I would much prefer there to be a service of the word taken by a layman.

  2. I fully understand where you are coming from and agree with you. But, I don’t regard it as a Communion breaking issue. I would still seek out the sacrament from an ordained priest but, as long as no one tries to get rid of ordained priests within the Communion so that I can continue to do so, I would live and let live.

    The bottom line is that if we don’t want stuff forced on us then we should not try and force stuff on others. We have to extremely radical and generous in respect of this as anything else would be hypocrisy. Asfar as I can work out Jesus loved all sinners with the exception of hypocrites who he hated with a vengeance. So I really do try and avoid being one myself. I fail, of course, but at least I try.

  3. I’m a Methodist and we have a very different take on communion. It’s worth taking a look at ‘His Presence makes the Feast’, a report published about 10 years ago, which surveyed what Methodists believe about communion.

    I want to clarify that lay presidency is not a ‘free for all’. I know you don’t say that it is but it could be inferred from what you have written and so I think its worth a bit of clarification. In the Methodist Church lay presidency is permitted subject to a decision at Methodist Conference. This needs to be renewed annually and applies only where there is eucharistic deprivation. These days most lay presidents are probationer ministers.

    In the URC I understand they are a little more relaxed and permission has to be obtained from the regional Synod.

    There are of course many other denominations. I once had the privilege of taking communion where the President of the Independent Methodists presided. Their President is lay and he conducted an excellent service in my view. Sadly it was an ecumenical event and many absented themselves because he was a lay president. The IMs are not part of the British Methodist Church and originated as the Quaker Methodists at the time of John Wesley. They have their church order and I’m sure it is not the case that anyone can preside without some sort of authorisation.

    Personally, I would resist any sort of free for all but I’m happy to participate wherever communion is a part of an ordered church, where there is accountability to an independent authority. This might be too relaxed for some and I’m sure it’s possible to pick holes in my logic but, well, life’s too short to spend reconciling legitimate church structures.

  4. I absolutely do not suggest there should be a free for all. I link lay presidency in the post to the permission of both the wider Church and, in particular, the local congregation.

    The Methodist system would be a very good template should the Anglican Communion ever go down the lay presidency road for those churches that wanted to adopt it.

    Of course, in a perfect world we would be in full communion with the Methodist Church in England who we should never have thrown out in the first place. And I say that as an Anglo Catholic (but then I know my history). I can’t say anything definite about the Methodist churches in other countries as I don’t have enough information on their beliefs.

    I happily take communion from anybody who is permitted to offer it within the context of their own church. I do not believe it to be a doctrinal issue. It’s just a matter of preference. At the moment the members of the Church of England prefer, on the whole, to receive communion from an ordained priest. I do. But preference is different to divine commandment and as God appears to have absolutely nothing to say on the matter of eucharistic presidency I’m just not prepared to be out of communion with fellow Christians over it.

  5. I can understaqnd why Anglicanism and Methodism went their separate ways; it became inevitable when Wesley started ordaining people without authorisation. I don’t know how they’re going to sort that one out, but the absence of the threefold ministry is one of the reaons why I’m a Methodist; I think ordination is a piece of nonsense, but bishops and archbishops are nonsense compounded.

    We’ve gone a bit further than lay presidency in my circuit; we’ve pioneered the appointment of lay ministers, who do almost all the things ordained ministers do; the only exception is marriages. We don’t have enough ministers to go round without lay presidency, and I think your church is going down the same road. Meanwhile, I don’t see the problem with communion by extension. Even if you believe in the real presence, once the deed’s been done, the presence surely remains even if the bread and wine are passed on by a layperson.

  6. There are lots of places where there simply isn’t a proper priest (Catholic, Anglican, or otherwise.) What would you say to those people?

  7. Jonathan, the reason I took the post down was that I thought better of starting another argument. However, I’m glad you wrote this post because this is a good discussion.

    Extended communion is certainly allowed in some parts of the Anglican Communion; I know it is here although, as Laura says, the lay minister has to be authorized by the bishop.

    Reading your comments about Kay presidency being a bigger change, I’m reminded of C.s. Lewis’ words about controversial issues in the church: one of the items of controversy is how important each controversy is. To me same sex marriage is a bigger change than lay presidency. But even more important, to me, is the issue of whether or not Christians should participate in war. And yet I have no intention of leaving the church over any of these issues.

  8. To me same sex marriage is a bigger change than lay presidency.

    It may be a bigger issue for you and it certainly is for me. It’s a much bigger issue morally. But to adopt it would not change the structure of the church in the same way that adopting lay presidency or getting rid of bishops would.

    Quite honestly if we can live with each other when we are breaking a primary commandment of Jesus that we should never remarry after divorce, I think we can live together if some priests want to marry same sex couples which Jesus says nothing about.

  9. A slight but relevant aside: I grew up Mormon / LDS, which ordains pretty much every male to the priesthood (I was ordained a deacon at the age of 12, and my father is still technically an LDS priest though now is a member of the Episcopal Church), so I am more inclined to ordain more and more people instead of restricting it.

    Why do we spend so much time trying to mold ‘priests’ by sending them away to seminary for a few years, fretting over whether they’re really ‘worthy’ (hint: no, they’re not, but God doesn’t mind). Why are we not preparing ALL the people of God with such learning that more than one member of the community can be raised up as a priest? Is it because the seminary-trained clergy want to be able to show their ‘superiority’? It is the right of every Christian to have a strong foundation in Church history, liturgy, theology and spirituality. Any Anglican should be feel capable enough of leading Morning/Evening Prayer or the Liturgy of the Word.

    My rural diocese has many “locally ordained” clergy who are raised up from the congregation to serve as priest. Frankly I think the Church would be better by having more clergy and not just think of “locally ordained” as a lesser substitute. Early Christians didn’t have seminaries.

    Lay presidency, then, for me is a way for the Church to continue privileging clergy. In fact, it makes it worse because then only those smart enough / financially secure enough to go to seminary or jump through a ton of ecclesiastical hoops then is permitted to have the nice “Reverend” title; certainly can’t have the common people without the MDiv degree getting that honorific!

    So ordain a bunch of ’em. Be gratuitous with ordination.

  10. Excellent, Karl Julian. I would agree that a priest is a priest. To have degrees of priesthood goes completely against the catholic tradition. It is also as patronising as hell towards those we relegate to the lesser priest ranks.

  11. I’m sure that this crowd is already aware that the Episcopal Church provides for “Eucharistic Visitors,” authorized by the bishop and sent out from the Mass by the parish to take Communion to those unable to come to church. In fact, this is an “innovation” that emerged from my diocese, the Diocese of Olympia, advocated by its 6th bishop, Robert Cochrane, who passed away last year.

    I serve as a Eucharistic visitor – have the necessary paperwork and everything. Speaking from experience, I can confirm that the ministry is pure blessing.

  12. Exactly, KJ. And I see no reason why that can’t be extended from taking communion to the housebound to include taking communion to a church without a priest 50 miles away. Do you drive?

  13. I will need to read this all carefully but I suspect that for me it comes down to the whole “magic hands” thing – which I personally don’t support, but I have a tendency to be a real strange bird – a radical protestant who loves liturgy…go figure.

  14. To me that’s a bit problematic, though, because it tends to focus attention at the service (in the church without a priest) on the receiving of the elements, rather than on the whole act of the church ‘making eucharist’. And I say this as a person with experience of this; when I was a Church Army captain and lay-minister in charge of two successive parishes in the Diocese of the Arctic, I had six years of experience of giving people communion in this way. It just seemed more than a little strange to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ without actually using the part of the service (the eucharistic prayer) that actually did the ‘remembering/recalling’. I found it profoundly unsatisfying.

    To me the sort of thing that KJ is talking about (which we do here, too) is different from the practice of a congregation regularly receiving communion with reserved sacrament at it’s main service. The sick and housebound members to whom KJ takes communion are actually members of the church which has made eucharist at its service (hopefully that same day). Whereas, in our case in the Arctic, a priest came in once a year and consecrated whole piles of bread and wine (an aircraft flight from Kugluktuk to Ulukhaktuk was a bit more expensive than a 50 mile car drive, so we couldn’t afford to bring in a priest any more often), and for the rest of the year we received communion from the consecrated elements as our main communion service at the church.

    I freely admit that the theological difference is not hard and fast, but there does seem to me to be a difference. and it seems to me that either lay-presidency (not just anyone, but someone who is recognised as a leader in the local congregation, a lay reader or catechist for example) or a much wider practice of ordination would be far preferable to what we experienced.

  15. Funny how much difference an ocean makes, I had no idea reading your essay what, “Communion by Extension” meant. Reading the comments here clarified.

    In TEC, lay Eucharistic ministers are licensed by the bishop on the recommendation of the rector and vestry. A specific liturgy is employed when they are to take communion to shut-ins or others unable to be at the mass. So it is certainly not a “free for all.”

    We need to remember, I think, that one person’s polity issue is another’s theology. Yes, over time we evolved some of these things as governance. But at some level, we continue them because we assign symbolic significance. Why three orders of clergy and not four? Trinitarian symbol.

    So it is true that the early church did not have the orders of clergy we consider normative. It is true that at least some of the reformers wanted to restructure (consider that TEC has no archbishops by design.)

    The apostles probably would consider most what we all do odd. But we do those things, over time, because they show us something about our relationships with each other, the church and God.

    I suppose that is how I (not the church!) understand what the Orthodox call the “Holy Tradition.”

    In my view, there are three reasons to change what we do, practical need (eg.clergy shortages,) changing relationships (emancipation of women change a lot of them!) and evolving understanding of the universe (cf. homosexuality.)

    There are among us however those who seek a static universe. God does not provide this so they pretend (creationism.) And especially for them, the idea of changing the traditional forms is about as scary as changing the defining analogies for the trinity.


  16. I agree entirely. But the post is referring to people who don’t want lots more priests and I suggested communion by extension as a first step. However, with catholics I think you would find that they would prefer communion by extension to lay presidency or no communion. As usual I’m basing my thoughts on South American liberation theology experiments.

  17. MP, I agree with that view of what is doctrinal. Want to bet we would be torn to shreds by the self-proclaimed orthodox were we to propose this view on any number of their blogs?


  18. I am not ever been ordained and never have wanted to be a priest/minister. But I have been a professional leadership person in religious education. As such, I have seen some results of poor/lack of church leadership.

    This conversation reminds me of a woman who resented one of our priests in a parish. Said she, “What is there to being a priest, all he does is stand there and talk….” And I thought of the families he counseled, the couples he advised, the spot on homilies he offered, the dying and grieving he ministered to….and I didn’t know where to start to discuss priestly leadership with this woman.

    And there was an TEC parish where I worked in the office to help a priest friend who was there for a short while. The lay leaders had divided up the priest’s duties so they would not have to hire a
    Vicar. A nurse was to take care of the sick, an accountant volunteered to do finances (turns out he was a bit short of cash himself)etc. A housewife was to work in the office and she actually physically attacked me for sitting in “her” chair behind the office desk, and the husband of the nurse became ill and she could not cover the shut-ins. Without leadership,n in almost no time, this parish had become total chaos.

    Seminaries are supposed to be training people capable of leadership.(sometimes they fail also) It is a matter of the whole package, not just who hands out the bread and wine. The local plumber may become a great Eucharistic Minister, but for the whole job of teaching consecrating and leading the Eucharist, training and aptitude is vital. Don’t give away the bath water and the baby, please!

  19. Throw away. I’ve tried giving away bathwater but nobody wants it. People are spoilt nowadays. When I was a lad one bath of water would be used by the whole town and there was 22000 of us. Now everybody has to have their own bathwater and there are even some rich bastards who bath more than once a week.

  20. I may have missed it, but I didn’t see a word about Vocational Deacons here. We have them in the US. They are “permanent” Deacons, not transitioning to the priesthood, and do not have any aspirations to the priesthood. They preach, administer communion, and provide pastoral care to folks like the homeless among other things. They bring communion to the sick at home and in hospitals, etc. and often are the second pair of hands distributing the Body of Christ at church on Sunday morning. They also assist the presider by keeping the place in the big book during the Eucharistic prayers, etc. Do you have them over there, MP?

  21. To me same sex marriage is a bigger change than lay presidency.

    I think we have the contemporary definition of Protestantism here.

  22. I doubt if there are many, if any left, Susan. We had deaconesses when women couldn’t become priests and a few didn’t get done so to speak. But we have no permanent diaconate as such, which is a shame. What we have are readers, many of whom are deacons in their practice but of course we don’t have to pay them because readers are always voluntary.

  23. Oh, ours are not paid. They usually have a job “out in the world.” One I know works for a law firm, I think as a clerk. Another teaches at “The School for Deacons,” which is located at the Episcopal Seminary here in Berkeley. I don’t know if she is a paid instructor or not.

  24. There is a strong diaconate over here. We serve as the “master of ceremonies” of the Sunday service. We read the gospel, lead the prayers of the people, receive the gifts and prepare the table, during the Eucharist I have distributed the bread and wine (as a second or third pair of hands) or on Sundays, stood back and ensured no one was running low, I also placed the blessed hosts into the travel kits, cleared the table and then joyfully gave the dismissal. All these being the traditional diaconal role.

  25. And I hope the whole damned thing collapses in a pile of rubble. I love the people in my parish, the people I’ve come into contact with who present Christ to the world . . . but I’ve come to hate – I mean hate – the businesses calling themselves church.