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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Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

Thank you, Rod Gillis, for your excellent analysis of this topic! I agee that the reserved sacrament is less than ideal, especially from a catholic liturgical perspective, because it is less than the full liturgical act. Every solution to the problem has a downside. The question here was what ELCIC would do with congregations in remote areas who only draw 10 to 15 people on Sunday. The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island does not face these problems. I know because my parish is in that diocese. Canadian Lutherans have the duty to minister to their people and have consulted with the Anglican Church of Canada. It does not matter if American Episcopalians agree or disagree. Canada represents a more consensus-oriented culture.

I like your commentary on pastoral care by the nonordained. Yes, it is important to do no harm.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Gary Paul Gilbert, agreed that use of the reserved sacrament in this context is less than ideal. Many will be aware of the long standing wide spread practice of dispensing the reserved sacrament at Eucharists when not enough bread or wine had been consecrated for those present to receive, especially at big well attended festivals like Christmas and Easter. More current liturgical "correctness" now suggests that the reserved sacrament should be used primarily to communicate the sick and the shut-in who cannot be present at that liturgy. (Shut-ins ought to be communicated at Easter from the Easter table, and not from the Ash Wednesday table, for example.)

If the celebrant runs short at a Eucharist then he/she should consecrate more, rather than use what is in the tabernacle/aumbry. In fact, the rubrics in the Canadian Eucharist explicitly state, " Communion should be given at each celebration of the eucharist from bread and wine consecrated at that liturgy." ( BAS p. 184).

A complicating factor in this issue is the size and viability of the communities the ELCIC is speaking about. It's the remote location coupled with small size and lack of financial resources to fund any kind of resident stipendiary ministry.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

Are you seriously telling me that a small congregation of, say 15-25 people in the “hinterlands,” of Canada don’t have an ordained priest/pastor or bishop visit them at least once or twice a year? Even if they have to fly in? One can buy a package of 1,000 unlevened communion wafers for less than $20. During one or two visits an ordained clergyperson could consecrate enough Reserved Sacrament for an entire six months or even a year. Whatever the so-called “Sydney Anglican” neo-Puritans may claim, in the Anglican/Catholic tradition, laypeople cannot celebrate a valid Communion/Mass, period. However, laypeople, even if they are not ordained as deacons, can certainly be licensed to distribute pre-consecrated communion bread (and wine). As I said, it’s not rocket science. Of course, if one does not hold to the traditions of the Holy Catholic Church, then I guess anything is possible— including the transformation of Ritz crackers and grape juice into something “sacramental.”

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Which is more convivial, a lay president embedded in the community, or passing out wafers like subway tokens after they have been "presanctified" by some distant prelate?

Pastoral necessity is often the mother of theological development. The first female priest in The Communion was ordained to meet the exigencies of occupied China in 1944. Initially branded by the establishment as "valid but irregular", (to use old fashioned mechanistic language) it was a harbinger of what is now normative.

Perhaps Brooklyn, and not Saskatchewan, is the real theological "hinterland". Such is what comes from living in the big town with an abundance of redundant buildings and the lots of designer Catholicism on the menu.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

“[P]assing out wafers like subway tokens after they have been ‘presanctified’ by some distant prelate?” You can do better than that, can’t you? Besides, they would be consecrated and Reserved at the local church, not shipped in by UPS.

Sorry, but some “theological developments” are more worth of support than others. Mass in the vernacular? Good idea. Married clergy? Okay with me. Women priests? Fine, I have no problem. Gay clergy? Why not? Inerrant holy book, infallible bishops and lay celebration of the Holy Mysteries? Thanks, but no thanks. Besides, I’d rather have “designer Catholicism” than your designer Protestantism any day of the week.

Kurt Hill
From the hinterland of beautiful
Brooklyn, NY

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Kurt, what can I say, sometimes gravitating toward the reformation pole of Christianity is the best way forward. I have no trouble being referred to as a protestant, as long as the label is not exhaustive.

The order for ELCIC Eucharists I've attended here actually seem more similar to the Catholic mass than our updated Anglican liturgies.

Couldn't resist reversing the metaphor about the "hinterland". I've been to Brooklyn, and my paternal uncle lived there most of his adult life. He used to say to me " you oughta live down here where the sun shines on both sides of the street." So, there ya go.

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Paul Woodrum
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David, I think you've brushed the edge of a solution: a deacon drone!

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

OK, Photoshoppers, start your engines! A challenge! "Deacon Drone" (I'm especially looking forward to seeing the flying dalmatic ;-D )

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Sweet, Jesus. What a wealth of perspectives the Lord's Supper hath wrought. How many ways can the celebration of the Eucharist and the service of Communion retain its sacramental authority? Scripture, tradition and reason may point the way.

In the meantime, the ELCIC may be tilling fertile ground.

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Paul Powers
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Paul Powers

I'm not sure whether our Lutheran brothers and sisters have the same view as many of us Anglicans have about the necessity of a priest for a valid eucharist, and I think we should be hesitant to pass judgment on the validity of another denomination's sacraments.

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