Lay ministers approved to preside at eucharist by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Convention.

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It has been the season for national church conferences, conventions and synods the world over. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) held their church-wide assembly in Edmonton Alberta JUL 9 – 12. During the convention, the ELCIC re-elected its National Bishop, the Revd Susan Johnson, to a 3rd four-year term. The convention also approved by 95% a motion to allow a lay person to be appointed to preside at communion.

In an article by Diana Swift in the Anglican Church of Canada’s magazine, the Anglican Journal, Ms Swift interviewed Bishop Johnson regarding the motion for lay eucharistic ministers. Bishop Johnson was very explicit in the interview that the ELCIC had undertaken the decision to authorize lay people to preach the word and preside at communion very carefully. That the situation whereby someone would be authorized to preside as a layperson would happen following very specific guidelines for the period of one year. The ELCIC has been so careful, because they do not wish to harm the full-communion relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada, which mirrors the full-communion relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Bishop Johnson said that a lot of checks & balances were written into the policy. Also;

  • The lay minister will work under the supervision of a mentoring pastor
  • They are non-stipendiary
  • They cannot wear clerical dress or vestments
  • They cannot preside at weddings, funerals or baptisms
  • They may not offer pastoral care, but will refer those needing counseling to their mentoring pastor

The ELCIC has a need for the policy because of a lack of clergy for Lutheran groups in remote locations. The Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee of the ELCIC began studying the situation in 2012. Only groups that have no other option available; multi-point parishes, itinerant ministers or clergy-sharing with an ELCIC ecumenical partner; the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada or the United Church of Canada, will be considered for approval for a lay presider.

The policy which was passed at the ELCIC National Convention can be amended by the National Church Council between National Conventions as needed. Two members of the Anglican Church of Canada have been tasked with writing a statement on what the policy will mean for their church.

Image from restfulincrease.org

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

A number of years ago, while on vacation in ( the diocese) of Montreal, I attended worship at a local (English language) parish. The service was most interesting, i.e. morning prayer conducted by a licensed lay reader, with the distribution of holy communion from the reserved sacrament. Frankly, I don't see a huge practical difference between that and the ELCIC decision. Indeed, I don't see a great practical difference between the ELCIC policy and the distribution of Communion by lay Eucharistic ministers in special situations.

These are practical arrangements to provide the sacrament to communities that otherwise may have limited options. It may be that having a lay person preside is more within the ELCIC's comfort zone than is use of reserved sacrament.

I'm more comfortable with this option that the practice in my diocese of ordaining a legion of non stipendiary priests complete with clerical garb and roles that often end up exceeding their training.

The original article from The Journal says:
"The new lay ministers will work under the close supervision of a mentoring pastor and will be non-stipendiary. They cannot preside at weddings, funerals or baptisms and may not wear clerical garb or vestments, although they are permitted to don albs when preaching or presiding at communion. The lay ministers will not be addressed as pastor or any other clerical title reserved for ordained clergy. Nor can they offer pastoral care but must refer individuals in need of counselling to the ordained pastors who mentor the lay ministers themselves. "

I would happily receive Communion in an ELCIC community under the circumstances described. It's unlikely to unhinge our full communion arrangement.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Rod: You make eminent sense. Didn't know you could do that. Thank you.

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Philip Spivey, "Rod: You make eminent sense. Didn’t know you could do that."

Congrats on your break through! You keep working on that.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Rod: I didn't have to work so hard really; Gary Paul Gilbert has done the work for me.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

I appreciate the fact that the ELCIC's resolution would lead to discomfort and confusion among the clergy. As a lay person, I feel a lot less perturbed, perhaps because I might benefit from this change, someday.

As I see it, the concern boils down to a reluctance to share the prerogatives of Holy Orders with the non-ordained and the possible ensuing role confusions. I believe these are legitimate concerns.

However, in the vast expanses of the Canadian continent, it may be that necessity has borne invention. If we place the Canadian situation into some kind of historical context, I believe that the early Church ---prior to 300 of the CE---chose Elders (or Overseers or Pastors) to preside over the Holy Supper; there were no priests, deacons or bishops at that time and even if there were, how could they possibly minister to this rapidly expanding church. My point being that the priestly prerogatives of celebrating the Eucharist came only after their were such defined roles as 'the priestly order' and these priests were plentiful enough to serve a greater population. Before that, Christian communities fed themselves.

Even now, there are exceptions in which lay persons---Lay Eucharistic Ministers---take communion to homes and hospitals throughout the world. I believe Canada is responding to what is probably, a long unmet need.

If we are, indeed, on the cusp of re-imagining our Church and Christianity for the 21st century, I think we owe it to ourselves think outside the box. Many Protestant churches use the concept of "Elder" to good effect. Perhaps it's time to cultivate and formalize a 5th order of Christian servant: bishop, priest, deacon, lay and elder. The 5th order would do no violence to the existing orders, but would complement them in a time of need.

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Geoff McLarney
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Geoff McLarney

Those "overseers" would be what we know call bishops: "elders" is another translation of "priest." It is true that the delegation of Eucharistic celebration to the latter was a result of the church's growth, but even today presbyters preside on behalf of the bishop, as his or her "vicar" at the altar. None of this provides a precedent for what is being done here (as opposed to lay distribution, which as you note is nothing new).

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

I wouldn't disagree with your analysis, Geoff. But what I would say that there may be room now, after two-thousand years, for a re-imagining. In communities within reach---enough priests and bishops to regularly celebrate the Eucharist. In places on the margins---not enough to go around and so the clerics are stretched or we can offer our congregants alternate sites or...Morning Prayer. Maybe this isn't a problem in TEC; I don't know.

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Geoff McLarney
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Geoff McLarney

I don't know the situation in the US either; I'm a Canadian Anglican.

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Michael Merriman
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Michael Merriman

This is a failure to recognize that ordination gives the authority to represent the Church as a whole in praying the Eucharistic Prayer. If a lay person is authorized to do that, he/she is in fact made an ordained person even though ordination formularies and actions have not been followed. Thus, the meaning of ordination is confused and the ministry of the whole church through baptism is distorted.

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Deborah
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Deborah

The distinctions the Lutherans are drawing make no sense to me. Sacramentally, a layperson can baptize if there are no clergy available. Marriage is a sacrament that the clergy confer on one another, with the priest really there only to bless their self-giving. Funerals are not a sacrament at all.

In fact, Eucharist is the ONLY sacrament for which lay presidency has never been accepted.

I value our relationship with the Lutherans, but it seems to me they've got it exactly backward.

Deborah - please follow our policy of using your first & last name to have future comments approved for posting. - ed

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L. E. "Jim" Keller
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L. E. "Jim" Keller

For Anglican's it makes sense to use Deacons to offer the blessed sacrament in a so-called "Deacons Mass." Most Bishops have failed to recognize the need for this type of service in parishes that are remote or cannot support a priest. Lay presiders have no place in an Anglican Church (my opinion!).

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Jim Pratt
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Jim Pratt

Jim,
In the Anglican Church of Canada, most rural dioceses have made provision for regular Sunday distribution of the Sacrament by lay persons, by license from the bishop. Usually this is in parishes, like the Lutheran rule is intended to address, where they cannot support ordained ministry, and are too far from neighboring parishes for shared ministry.

In those Anglican parishes, the lay reader with authorization to distribute communion is usually also authorized to baptize, conduct funerals, and sometimes to marry.

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