She got that much right!

Dr Muriel Porter

Dr Muriel Porter

Cathnews reports this morning about opposition within the Australian Anglican Church to the push by the Sydney Anglicans to allow lay presidency at the Eucharist.

Melbourne Anglican Dr Muriel Porter, one of the 28 signatories to the tribunal’s reference, said who presided at Holy Communion was not a ”trivial in-house issue” but one ”at least as important as women’s ordination and gay clergy”.

Well, she got that right, at least.

It is somewhat ironic that among Australian Anglicans you have those in the blue corner arguing against women and homosexual priests but for lay presidency, while in the red corner you have those arguing for women and homosexual priests and against lay presidency. What any sane orthodox Anglican makes of it, I have no idea.

But perhaps the problem is best expresses by Dr Porter again, as she is reported to have gone on to say:

”Who presides at Holy Communion – the central worship service for Anglicans – is about who are the leaders in the Anglican Church, who is authorised to lead.”

The issue of presiding at the Eucharist, according to Dr Porter, is about “leadership” – that horrible modern word that can mean just about anything these days, but is certainly about power within the community. This becomes more interesting in the context of comments made by Anglican Bishop Glenn Davies of North Sydney, who said in the original article that allowing laypeople, including lay women, to preside at the Eucharist:

“gives women the full range of possibilities in ministry without being head of a parish.”

In other words, the Sydney Anglicans oppose Women’s Ordination, not because they do not believe that a woman can preside at the Eucharist, because they don’t think a woman should be (in Dr Porter’s terms) “leaders”, ie. with authority over male members of the Church.

Thus, for both the Sydney Anglicans and their opponents, Eucharistic presidency has become an issue about “leaderhip”, and about “power” in the Church. I am not saying that such ideas do not often figure in debates between Catholics on this matter. I am saying that you won’t get anywhere with this approach.

The president at the Eucharistic celebration in the Church is the ordained priestly icon of Christ. The Eucharist he offers is the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood. Yes, this is a kind of leadership, but it is the leadership of Christ who said “Take up your cross and follow me” and “Whoever wishes to be greatest of all must be the servant of all.”

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12 Responses to She got that much right!

  1. Kiran says:

    One doesn’t quite know what to say about here. I suppose, we should say that Eric Mascall would have been appalled. William Oddie in his book, The Roman Option discussed this at length.

  2. William Tighe says:

    I imagine that Sydney Anglicans would dislike being termed “Lutherans” almost as much as they would “Catholics,” but the “funny” thing is that “lay presidency” has historically had more “traction” among Lutherans than among the Reformed. Luther claimed that laymen (and laywomen) all had the capacity to preach, baptize and “consecrate the bread and wine” by virtue of their baptism, even though considerations of “good order” should restrict these things to “called and ordained” pastors, whereas the Reformed, and especially those who followed Calvin, limited preaching and the administration of both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the ordained. Not that Lutherans necessarily followed Luther in this area: Ch. 14 of the Augsburg Confession’s “rite vocatus” can be read as requiring the “traditional” Catholic ordination, or else simply a “call to minister” from a particular congregation — perhaps, as Chris Jones once suggested to me, this was a deliberate piece of ambiguity on Melanchthon’s part.

    I think that “lay presidency” entered Lutheranism only in conjunction with Pietism, and it has a long history in American Lutheranism, going back to the 18th Century. Even today, it is permitted in the liberal ELCA, the conservative Missouri Synod and the ultra-conservative Wisconsin Synod. In Europe, it is much rarer: none of the Scandinavian or Baltic Lutherans allow it, save for Norway, where it came in under Pietist influence in the 19th Century, and in some of the German landeskirchen under liberal influence in the 1920s (although in some of them ordination candidates were occasionally licensed to preach and baptize/celebrate). But the practice has universally repudiated among all Anglicans, save for those of the “lowest” stripe (e.g., the “Church of England in South Africa,” a 19th-Century Evangelical Anglican split from the main Anglican “Church in the Province of South Africa,” and which has long been a “protectorate” of the Sydney Anglican archdiocese, has allowed “lay celebration” since the 1930s, and the “Reformed Episcopal Church,” a 1870s split from the Episcopal Church in the USA, until very recently allowed [as Sydney does] deacons to celebrate “the Lord’s Supper”).

    Much of the opposition in the ELCA to the “Concordat” between it and the Episcopal Church about 10 years ago was driven by opposition to (a) restricting ordination to bishops and (b) discouraging lay celebration — and the group that split from the ELCA over that issue, “Lutheran Congregations for Mission in Christ,” accepts both lay celebration and women’s ordination. Indeed, the ultra-conservative Wisconsin Synod has authorized on some occasions one of its laywomen to celebrate the Eucharist for groups composed exclusively of women.

    So history does have its strange ironies.

  3. William Tighe says:

    Oh, and I reviewed Oddie’s book (which Kiran mentioned above) here:

  4. Kiran says:

    Interestingly, as an aside, many of the conversions of the adherents of the Oxford Movement to the Catholic Church was over a shared Episcopacy with the German Lutherans, which they considered was a compromise with a “heresy repugnant to Scripture”

    I discovered much to my surprise, that Muriel Porter’s only claim to fame is that she is an Anglican liberal. And for that, she has an OAM???

  5. matthias says:

    Muriel porter a rather loud voice down here in melbourne anglican diocese. I do find it interesting that she seems to be against lay presidency and all for priests/priestess’s presiding ,but then i suppose she thinks that by not having lay presidents ,it is reason enough for for more women priests which means we do not need lay presidents because we have priests and more abundantly and i have headache developing,though perhaps not as bad as Archbishop Jensen may give er get.
    Oh well seems the priesthood of believers is lost .

  6. Kiran says:

    BTW, I heard from a source recently that when lay presidency is brought up, the ‘High’ Anglicans over here pointed out that the Anglican communion survives on an agreement that certain things are out of discussion, as ruled out by Anglican tradition, one of which is gay marriage, and the other lay presidency.

    At this, one throws up one’s hands, and leaves.

  7. William Tighe says:

    “the Anglican communion survives on an agreement that certain things are out of discussion, as ruled out by Anglican tradition, one of which is gay marriage, and the other lay presidency.”

    Change “survives” to “survived” and add to the “certain things are out of discussion” women’s “ordination” (cf. Archbishop Fisher’s threat prior to the 1948 Lambeth Conference that it would be ejected from the Anglican Communion if it did not disavow its bishop’s 1944 “priesting” of Lee Tim Oi), and you’d be spot on — but today such Anglicans are not trying to keep alive an ailing body, but to galvanize a corpse.

  8. Joshua says:


    You mean to say that “lay presidency” means allowing, not merely a layman, but a laywoman to “say Mass” (well, no, but that’s how a Catholic would phrase celebrating the Sacrament of the Eucharist), yet these same people won’t countenance women priests – surely to “say Mass” is ipso facto to be a priest!

    This is really bizarre.

    To a Catholic, to be a priest is to have the sacra potestas to consecrate the Eucharist; all else is linked to this – whereas it appears to these Low Anglicans that anyone can have a snack on bread and wine “in His memory”; if so, why not break bread for oneself (and family) at home?

    So the issue in Sydney is not about priests needing to be men to act at the altar in persona Christi capitis, but rather about the headship of the man?

    I really need to sit down… wait, I am already.

    And as for discovering that in Sydney deacons – against every canon and rule of the early Church – dare to celebrate what they claim to be a Eucharist – what horror!

    On the Catholic side, so late as the reign of St Pius X (not a century ago), a deacon in Rome officiated at Benediction, daring to handle the monstance containing a preconsecrated Wafer: the scandal of such unheard-of overreaching reached the ears of the Supreme Pontiff, and he decreed “Diaconus in æternum” – such a one must remain but a penitent deacon for ever.

    And as for Lutherans! Now I discover how Janus-faced some are: far from limiting “saying Mass” (see above) to those they believe ordained, and learnedly debating with Catholics about the New Testament not yet having definitively split bishops from priests (as Raymond Brown argues), using this as a prooftext for pastors ordaining pastors validly, at the same time they allow any, and in the case of even of some of the most conservative, the Wisconsin mob, even permit a lady to do so! And I am amazed and discomfited to read that the ELCA and LC-MS do so as well. Really…

    Utterly stonkered I am.

  9. Joshua says:

    Can I really have understood correctly?

    This is just unbelievable.

  10. William Tighe says:


    “Can I really have understood correctly?”


    “This is just unbelievable.”

    Not really; what is “unbelievable” is that a body that permits such things could have members who seriously claim that their body is “truly Catholic” or “truly the Catholic Church.”

    (The late Professor Marquart of the LC-MS’ Fort Wayne seminary once termed the provisions regulating “lay presidency” — which had previously rested upon the discretion of pastors and/or their church councils — which were endorsed at a LC-MS convention which met in Wichita, Kansas, in 1989 “the Wichita amendment to the Augsburg Confession.” If anyone but themselves were to take their “Catholic claims” seriously they would need to get rid of this pernicious practice, but I wouldn’t wager on it happening.)

  11. Joshua says:


    Would you care to make a comment?

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