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.