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Sydney case goes to appeal tribunal

09 September 2009

by Muriel Porter, Australia Correspondent

THE Anglican Church of Australia’s highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, will assess the legality of a decision to permit diaconal presidency and af­firm lay presidency (24 October 2008).

The tribunal reference, requested by 28 General Synod members, iden­tifies six constitutional ques­tions. The signatories are from 13 Aus­tralian dioceses, and include eight diocesan bishops.

Last year, the Sydney synod ac­cepted an argument that there was no legal impediment to deacons’ presid­ing, given that, under a 1985 General Synod canon, deacons are authorised to assist the priest in the admini­stration of the sacraments.

A report accompanying the mo­tion argued that, because deacons could administer baptism “in its entirety”, and because “no hierarchy of sacraments is expressed in des­cribing the deacon’s role of assisting the presbyter,” deacons were auth­orised to “administer the Lord’s Supper in its entirety”.

While the motion also affirmed lay presidency on the basis of a Lay As­sistants canon of 1973, the synod was told that the Archbishop would not license lay presidents yet.

Since the synod, at least one Syd­ney regional bishop has approved diaconal presidency in his region. The Rt Revd Robert Forsyth, in a letter to parish rectors, gave his “personal approval to deacons presiding at the Lord’s Supper where appropriate”. This was, he wrote, “uncharted waters”; but there was a “reasonable case” that deacons presiding was law­ful, whereas the case for lay presi­dency was “far more difficult to sustain”.

Reports suggest that diaconal presid­ency has taken place at some Sunday communion services since the synod meeting, including presid­ency by women ordained priest in other dioceses but licensed only as deacons in Sydney.

The tribunal preliminary hearing, held on 20 August, was told that the diocese of Sydney had declined to participate. Nevertheless, a Sydney regional bishop, the Rt Revd Glenn Davies, who moved the motion in the Sydney synod last year, will partici­pate as an individual. The diocese of Newcastle, NSW, and a group of three Sydney rectors are also parties to the matter.

A decision is not expected until the middle of next year.

Dr Muriel Porter is one of the 28 sig­natories to the tribunal reference.

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