Sydney's Diocesan Synod has reaffirmed its conviction that lay and diaconal administration of Holy Communion is consistent with the teaching of Scripture and "may" be allowable.

The resolution comes in the wake of an opinion from the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia about the legal basis for allowing deacons and lay people to administer Holy Communion.

Lay presidency has never been authorized in the Diocese of Sydney.

However, since 2008 Sydney Diocese has been implementing a permanent diaconate in an effort to fulfil a number of mission goals, not least making it easier to start new congregations, especially those catering for the vast ethnic diversity of new migrants settling in Sydney.

New churches led by deacons have also been planted in extra-parochial contexts such as Anglican schools.

In Sydney, deacons and presbyters (priests) obtain the same level of theological qualification. There are 215 deacons actively ministering in Sydney Diocese and they make up 36 percent of all clergy appointments.

In moving the motion, Bishop Glenn Davies said there is nothing wrong with Sydney Synod stating an opinion different to the Appellate Tribunal.

"If you asked [Australian] bishops if it was consistent with the constitution to allow lay people to celebrate Holy Communion not many would put up their hands, and yet that opinion is different to the opinion previously expressed by the Appellate Tribunal," he said.

Bishop Davies placed special emphasis on the fact the motion used the phrase “may be allowable” to describe Sydney’s policy.

“There is a lot of power in the word may,” he said.

In seconding the motion, Archdeacon Narelle Jarrett said the bar on deacons administering Holy Communion was nowhere legislated in Scripture.

"It is a tragedy that deacons can not fulfill the full sacramental ministry," she said. "It is pastorally appropriate that deacons who are chaplains in schools, prisons and hospitals be allowed to administer the Lord's Supper." 

Archdeacon Jarrett also identified an "emerging difficulty" in a structure that allows one presbyter per parish and so has resulted in many more deacons pastoring branch churches or church plants.

"How sad that our brothers and sisters [in these churches] will not be able to partake in this sacrament that speaks all the way through of God's grace."

Killing the motion

Before debate on the motion had even got under way, Alan Hohne, representing Cherrybrook parish, moved that the motion not be put.

"Of course I am not against the truths expressed by the movers," he said, "but I am against reaffirming the 2008 resolution."

"This is not a gospel issue and it's not worth complicating our good and improving relations with Anglican bishops around the world," he said.

The Rev Andrew Katay, rector of Ashfield, Haberfield and Five Dock, a multi-church parish in Sydney's inner-west, spoke against Mr Hohne's suggestion, pleading with the Synod to provide clarity.

"I have a female deacon licensed to me who administers the Lord's Supper," he said. "I am now confused about the Appellate Tribunal decision and what it means for her. We need the Synod to speak and give its opinion."

Mr Hohne's procedural motion was lost on voices.

Three amendments

The Synod also considered a number of amendments.

Mrs Susan Hooke wanted to add a further clause noting motion 28.21 from last month's General Synod, which stated that "no existing Canon of the General Synod authorising diaconal and lay celebration of Holy Communion has been identified" as well as noting the Appellate Tribunal's "majority advice".

Bishop Davies argued that this amendment was redundant given that his motion already noted the Appellate Tribunal's opinion.

The Rev Keith Dalby from St John's Gordon, who was one of those who asked the Appellate Tribunal for its opinion on the legal basis for Sydney's policy, attempted to delete the reference to reaffirming Sydney Synod's two-year-old resolution.

The most substantial debate was around an amendment from Garth Blake SC, seeking to lay out a roadmap for taking the matter to General Synod.

In response, the Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, said the Appellate Tribunal opinion displayed little understanding of the real pastoral and theological issues.

"The way forward is to say thankyou for your opinion here is our opinion and that is how we fellowship together in disagreement," he said. "The Lord's Supper is a gospel issue and we need to make clear it is a gospel issue in world Anglicanism."

A number of speakers also argued that Mr Blake's proposal would do nothing to resolve the status of Sydney's permanent diaconate policy. Instead it would open up many more years of dispute.

The Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia sets a very high bar for passing the canons required for such innovations: a two-third majority is required in General Synod as well as assent by every Australian Diocese.

Canon Bruce Ballantine-Jones, acting rector of Beverley Hills, argued, "if you follow Garth Blake's proposal you would be killing this for ever".

Robert Tong said Mr Blake's motion "holds out a forlorn hope".

Supporting Mr Blake, a number of lawyers said there were serious questions about the legal status of the policy.

One of them, Ian Miller, said, "we need to honour the law that binds our church" at least [Mr Blake's proposal] allows the matter to be discussed."

All three amendments lost on the voices.

An attempt to take the vote in houses was also lost, and the original motion was passed easily on voices.

Justice Peter Young, who was president of the Appellate Tribunal when the question was considered, absented himself from the chamber during the debate.



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