Sydney Diocese to invite bishops of the Anglican Communion to respond to plans for Lay and Diaconal Presidency
[Anglican Media Sydney] News stories that have appeared with suggestions that the Diocese of Sydney is about to commence the practice of lay and diaconal presidency are incorrect.
A Committee report will be debated at the June meeting of the diocesan Standing Committee. The report contains the suggestion that a process of consultation with the bishops of the Anglican Communion be set in train later this year before the matter is fully debated by the Sydney Synod in October 2004.
The Committee was set up by an October 2001 Synod resolution that requested an investigation as to whether there was a legal option for commencing the practice of lay and diaconal presidency in the Diocese of Sydney.
The Sydney Synod has been debating lay presidency (called in Sydney 'lay administration') since 1977, and there is now a strong commitment based on biblical and theological reasoning for the practice to be introduced into the ministry of the diocese. Yet it is also realised that this would become a matter of strong debate within the Anglican Communion, and the Synod Committee has appropriately recommended this process of careful consultation.
The recommendations of the Committee are that the report and draft legislation be sent to the 2003 Synod and also that the Synod should request the Archbishop [Dr Peter Jensen] "to write to the bishops of the Anglican Communion explaining the intention of the Synod to consider the bill at its 2004 session, and inviting comments to be forwarded to him by 1 June 2004."
The suggestion is also that Dr Jensen arrange for a report to be prepared on the responses that are received for the Synod session in October 2004.
"Clearly a firm intention to consult with the episcopal leadership of the entire Anglican Communion is central to the planned process for the Sydney Synod," said Dr Glenn Davies, Bishop of North Sydney and the Committee chairman.
The report deals with legal matters, without any theological reasoning. This is because the Synod in 2001 resolved that the Committee should investigate any options, consistent with church law, that would be available for the matter to proceed into practice within the Diocese.
The Committee believes that there is a power for this to be allowed under Section 2(1) of the Anglican Church of Australia Constitutions Act 1902. This is a result of a 1976 amendment to this NSW 1902 Act.
The Anglican Church of Australia is essentially a federation of provinces and dioceses. While there is a Constitution for the Anglican Church of Australia that came into being in 1961, this does not remove the power of the 1902 NSW Act.
The Committee report says consideration was also given to the advisory opinions from the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia on questions sent to it by the then Primate, Archbishop Keith Rayner, in 1995.
The Primate asked whether it is consistent with the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia for deacons and lay people 'to preside at, administer or celebrate the Holy Communion'? The Appellate Tribunal answered YES to this question with a 4/3 vote.
The Primate also asked, if the previous answer was YES, if it is consistent with the Constitution of the Church for a diocesan synod rather than a national Church General Synod 'to permit, authorise or make provision for the practices of lay and diaconal presidency'? The Appellate Tribunal answered NO with a 6/1 vote.
The Sydney Committee understood that the matter could proceed if a Canon was passed by the General Synod. However, it also understood that the General Synod was unlikely ever to pass such a Canon.
The Committee also recognised that lay and diaconal administration is widely regarded as not being authorised in the Church because of provisions of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, especially Section x.
This Act was repealed in England in 1974 but was still the law in the Church of England in 1961 when the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia was passed.
An opinion from a 1948 legal case in NSW relating to a prayer book in use in the Diocese of Bathurst was that though the Act of Uniformity was never a Public Act in NSW, it still [in 1948] determined the doctrine and ritual of the Church of England in NSW since it did so in the Church of England.
The Sydney Synod Committee therefore resolved that the way forward to ensure a legal power for lay and diaconal presidency would be to repeal any operation that the Act of Uniformity may still have in the Diocese of Sydney.
Notwithstanding an Appellate Tribunal Opinion in 1976 that the Act of Uniformity does not now apply to the Anglican Church of Australia, the Synod Committee recommends that this repeal of Section x of the Act of Uniformity would remove all doubt as to its application to the introduction of lay and diaconal presidency in the Diocese of Sydney.
If this was repealed then lay and diaconal presidency could be dealt with by way of regulation of the Archbishop at the request of Synod.
A proposed ordinance was attached to the Committee report. The recommendation was that this ordinance be tabled at the October 2003 session of the Synod with the Committee report and that the process of consultation be set in train with a view to full Synod debate on the matter in 2004.
What happens next?
The Synod Standing Committee will debate the matter on June 30 and decide whether or not it desires to print the report and draft bill for Synod in October, accompanied by the suggested process of Communion wide consultation.
Two Sydney Doctrine Commission Reports on Lay Administration may be found at: