16 February 2018


Prebendary Pat Dearnley writes:

DR ANDREW CHANDLER’s obituary (2 February) of Canon Anthony Harvey referred to his willingness to create a stir concerning the Church, notably over the report Faith in the City. Another such issue may well be remembered in the next few years.

In 1975, his little book President or Priest? was published by SPCK, in which he considered the contentious topic of lay presidency of the euchar­ist. Suggesting that this should be permissible in certain circumstances, he drew an analogy with the situa­tion that confronted secular in­stitu­tions. At statutory meetings, in the absence of the chairman, an­­other authorised member would preside.

At the time of publication, An­thony’s thinking would have been influenced by current issues exercis­ing the Church. Lively ecumenical discussions were taking place, along with radical rethinking about the part played by ministry, in many Churches, including the Roman Cath­­olic Church, through the writ­ings of Jean Tillard.

Also, the burgeon­ing practice of informal groups wishing to celebrate “house communions” raised crucial ques­­tions over who might preside at these. I was almost lynched at a synod meeting for having the te­mer­ity to propose that we might discuss the book at a future meeting.

Now there is a problem that Anthony did not then foresee: namely, the impending shortage of stipendiary priests, owing to a bulge in retirements alongside financial stringency. The consequence of this is likely to be an increase in the number of mergers and multi-parish benefices and, possibly, more health and marriage breakdowns among parish clergy. Forty years on from the publication of this provocative treatise, perhaps it is time for it to be revisited (suitably updated), or even republished.

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