THE highest church court in Australia, the Appellate Tribunal, has ruled that both lay and diaconal presidency at the eucharist are not permitted under existing General Synod canons — contrary to claims by a 2008 resolution of Sydney Synod (News, 24 October 2008).
Since the 2008 Synod, at least one of the assistant bishops in the diocese of Sydney has approved diaconal presidency in his area. There is evid-ence to suggest that diaconal presidency has taken place at some Sunday services, including presidency by women who, although ordained priest in other dioceses, are licensed only as deacons in Sydney diocese.
The Tribunal’s findings, which were brought down on Thursday of last week by a six-to-one majority, were in response to a reference from 28 General Synod members, who were acting under a provision of the Church’s constitution. The signatories came from 13 Australian dio-ceses, and included eight diocesan bishops.
The reference identified six constitutional questions arising from the Sydney synod’s resolution, which said that there was no legal impediment to deacons’ presiding at the eucharist under the terms of a 1985 General Synod canon authorising deacons to assist the priest in the administration of the sacraments.
The resolution also affirmed lay presidency on the basis of the General Synod Lay Assistants at Holy Communion Canon 1973, although the synod was told that the Archbishop of Sydney would still need to license lay presidents, and would not do so at the present time. This reluctance was believed to relate to the relationship between the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, and the GAFCON bishops.
The diocese of Sydney chose not to participate in the proceedings, although an assistant bishop, the Bishop of the diocese’s Northern Region, Dr Glenn Davies, defended the diaconal- presidency claim in a personal capacity (News, 9 April 2009). He had presented the motion to the Sydney synod in 2008. The diocese of Newcastle, three Sydney rectors, and a parishioner supported the claims of the applicants.
The six-member majority said in its report that members of the Church were entitled to worship God ac-cording to the rules of the Church, and that, while many of these rules could be enforced under the law of trusts, few church members could afford to undertake expensive court proceedings. There was also scriptural authority “for the view that proceedings of such nature before a secular court are wrong for believers”.
The report continued: “It is thus up to the bishops and this Tribunal to see that the rules of the Church are upheld. This is not just a matter of legalism, but a matter of fairness and protection of the ordinary members of the Church. The determination of this reference and the publication of these reasons will make it difficult for any member of the Church who acts contrary to them . . . to argue that such conduct is inadvertent.”
So far, the only response from the diocese of Sydney has been a report on its website, where it has described the Tribunal determination as “advisory”. It quotes an unnamed spokesman for the diocese as saying that the “advisory opinion” of the Tribunal “will doubtless receive atten-tion at the diocesan synod to be held in October”.
Dr Muriel Porter, one of the 28 signatories, organised the reference to the Tribunal.