Sunday, December 31, 2006

What's the laity for anyway?

Interesting conversation going on over at the Bishop/Deputies listserve regarding the topic of Lay Eucharistic Ministers. I was very surprised to see - without naming names - who were those who are quite alarmed by the rise of the Lay Eucharistic Ministry. It was odd to see that many who support the theological innovations of the Episcopal Church are quite rigid when it comes to maintaining a distinct separation between the roles of clergy and the roles of laity. What's up with that?

One of the hallmarks of the renewal in the Episcopal Church was that the structures of the church were turned up side down. Where it was the clergy's job to do ministry and it was the laity's job to support that ministry - now it's the other way around. It is the clergy's job to support the ministry of the laity and they do this by equipping the people to go out and spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the marketplace, through their witness and their word. When lives have been transformed by Jesus through His Holy Spirit and His Word, it is a powerful witness to the world in which the laity live and work, in their neighborhoods and in their workplaces. This has been a hallmark of the renewal.

This has certainly been the case at Truro where lay leadership walks alongside the clergy leadership, side by side. What distinguishes people are their gifts - their natural gifts, but even more so the gifts of the Spirit that are expressed when people come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and are filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work of ministry. Sacramental ministry moves from the Table to the World.

And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

I was quite surprised to see clergy and lay deputies so adamant about drawing a line between the laity and the clergy and I'm still trying to figure out why people who proclaim themselves "progressive" on theological issues could be so "traditional," even rigid when it comes to separating the clergy and the laity. I'd be very interested in hearing other people's ideas on why this is so.

There is no way that Truro or our other sister churches in Virginia could do the ministries that we do with so many thousands of members without the equipping of the laity - not only in sending the ministry out but within the walls the church. We have over thirty Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMs) exercising their ministries every weekend in the services and even more going to visit those at home or in the hospitals. Some of our LEMs go on to seminary but not every seminarian has been a Lay Eucharistic Minister. We have licensed Lay Readers and not everyone who gets in the pulpit is ordained.

The job of the clergy have been to equip the laity and this was very dramatically expressed during our "500 in Five" mission outreach where we made it a goal to send out five hundred lay people in mission in five years. Every year (and it still continues) teams made up of clergy and laity go out into mission all over the world, at home and abroad. Those missions have transformed the lives not only of our adult membership, but of the young people as well.

What does it mean to be in the "priesthood of all believers?" What is the purpose of clergy and bishops in the equipping of the priesthood of all believers? What does "mutual submission" mean when we focus on the relationships between clergy and the laity?

A primary calling for the clergy - though not reserved only for them - is to teach the scriptures so that the laity can 'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the scriptures. Once the Word of God grows healthy roots in the hearts and minds of believers, they are prepared to become disciples of Jesus Christ.

It is indeed ironic that there is such a canonical and structural fundamentalism that takes root when the integrity of the scriptures is compromised. An educated and equipped laity, who know their scriptures, should not be taken lightly. Clerics and Bishops have known this for a long time, for a very long time.

There are those writing essays that think that the current crisis is caused by the work of a few clergy and the laity sit blindly and stupidly in their pews. But I would maintain that it is quite the opposite. Having worked for so many years to train and equip the laity to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures - and then find the leadership of the Episcopal Church walking away from the truth of the scriptures has caused more and more laity to stand up and be counted and say no more.

What gives the sacraments their power is that they point to the truth of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ as we see Him revealed in the Scriptures. If we divorce the scriptures from the sacraments, then the sacraments are free to be reinterpreted - reimagined - to fit the new theology and whatever else comes down the pike.

An equipped and educated laity - who take part in all aspects of the church, guided and encouraged by the clergy - awakens a sleeping Church to be about the mission of Jesus Christ to this broken world He came to save.

As we look forward into the new year, may we continue to grow in our knowledge and love for Jesus, expressed in the study of His Word, in the Sacraments, and by caring for the least, the last, and the lost. That is the laity - and the clergy's - calling together. And together that makes a church awake for Christ and alive for the world.



Anonymous said...

I have been reading the same comments there. It is gratifying to see that Truro is following Pauls 1st letter to the Corinthians especially chapter 12

Unknown said...

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Cor 12:4-30

Anonymous said...

BabyBlue, you are right on. The same thing is happening in the ELCA. There, the bishops are very concerned about lay presidency, almost tot he point of obsession. Yet, these same people no longer think Scripture is important for guidance in daily life, especially on sexual matters.My take is that when you take the soul out of Christianity, all you have is dead institutional structure; and the leadership is hanging onto the rotting strucutre with a death grip. The point is the strucutre is dead; The Spirit is life and goes where it will. If one group is no longer faithful withGod's gifts, then He willfind others who are faithful.
Peace, Dan

Anonymous said...

Baby Blue,Have forwarded your thoughts about the role of lay persons to a United Methodist Bishop with whom I have contact.
Your thoughts are right on target.

Clancy, The Circuit Rider from Florida

Kevin said...


Okay, I'll bite. First off, I'm not surprised, I've said numerous times that General Convention is trying to set themselves up as a magisterium. This statement seems to go right over the head of most Protestants. The whole Reformation is on the idea Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and Priesthood of All Believers. So your proving yourself quite a Protestant by this article and even using the third tenant of the Reformation.

One of our week spots is where Roman Catholics will strike everytime, interpretation of Scripture is at a local level. Granted a lot of that not understanding the unity in diversity Protestants have, so I can believe in a Sacrament where a Baptist believes it's only a symbol or a Presbyterian hold yet another, but we are united in the Gospel of Christ. So they'll see often make a logical falicy of the false dilemma and not understand why we just don't see their point (just as Proatestants have a habit of thinking we have the perfect arguement about infalliblity and we tend to blow it and talk right past them.

I'm not writing to talk about Protestant/Catholic debate -- if you're interested, there are plenty of places to do that elsewhere, personally I find them caustic ego battles which would push any non-believer away from our shared Truth claims of Jesus the Christ.

However, I do think it strikes at the heart of what Lambeth and General Convention are as a body. Are they a governance body or can matters of theology defined by them as a magisterium? What I've seen by "the Spirit is doing a new thing" is that many are view it as the latter, this is a very dangerous thing, The Orthodox Churches believe that only Ecumenical Council can set doctrine (only seven of those, the eigth ened with the "Schism of Nicholas" or the "The Photian Schism" depending of which side you are looking in 869 AD). The Roman Catholic say there are 21 councils and also when the pope speaks ex cathedra, which is actually VERY rare! 306 Years between Trent and VC1, and only one statement about Mary ex cathedra last century. So both Christian Churches that have magisteriums have a lot of restraint in them with much theological debate still maintained inside these bodies.

I've seen Hugo's copy of the TEC cannon's, wow, ours is nearly as thick as the Roman Catholic's cannon, we're had about two hundred years and they two thousand years to create such a set.

Here is what most do not get. In Roman Catholism, yes the cannons are the actual statement of believe for them (deserter to the CCC will quickly point that out [correctly, it's not infallible by their definition]). When TEC is asserting the cannons with the same vigor, it's an attempt to establish an authority apart from Scripture, that's why this cannon thing is so large from that side, they are not being viewed as governance any more but also as theological instruments with the same power of a magisterium.

[Huge not of difference, Roman Catholics will tell you that nothing is in contray to the Scripture, what is done is defined them (some seems a little odd to me - however explaination of perpetual viginity of Mary is a valid arguement by Aristotelian logic, but not so actions of GC03)].

SO WHAT does any of this have to do with LEM? Easy, everything, it depends on where your starting your mental view of the matter. If your taking a centralised view (simular to the Catholic Churches) then you should end up with view point that the priestly class should reserve many rights over the layity, less things get out of control. Without Scripture being the main instrument, the focus shifts to the Sacraments, which only the ordained are premitted to do, thus allowing LEMs is weaking the power of the clergy is some way (remember most parishes are no where near the size of Truro, thus your arguement is not really pertinent for them).

This is just another symptom of a world view difference of the two sides we see today.


Kevin said...


It should be noted that since Vatican 2, there has seen a dramatic increase in the role of layity in the Roman Catholic Church, I've never seen LEMs (I suppose not technically impossible, but this area would be especially guarded), still a huge increase of layity involvement in Mass & host a praise & worship service all they want.

So in some ways BB observations are even odder except for the desire for power.

Unknown said...

Please bear in mind that one of the (relatively few) defining characteristics of Anglicanism is its ecclesiology. Ya gotta have threefold orders and episcopal oversight to be Anglican. You can have a plain surplice or Liberace-style vestments, plain table or candles and thurifer, but ya gotta have Catholic orders.

Because of the longstanding differences in churchmanship of Anglicanism, we HAVE to put up with some ecclesiological bits that we disagree with. Anglo-Catholics tolerate the fuzzy teaching and (often) plain services. Anglo-Evangelicals put up with the "clericalism" of having to have a priest around to consecrate the bread and wine. (As to who helps the priest distribute it, anybody off the street is OK.)

You have to understand this compromise. To allow lay presidency is to completely reject Anglo-Catholic sacramental theology and ecclesiology, thereby violating the very compromise that makes Anglicanism possible -- as if we Anglo-Catholics were to pass a canon that required singing the Angelus at the beginning of each service, or the use of incense on major feasts -- either of which would establish a practice completely unacceptable to Anglo-Evangelical theology and tradition.

The idea is that you don't have to believe Anglo-Catholic distinctives, but you have to structure your church and liturgy in a way consistent with them, a way that makes it possible to believe them -- and likewise for Anglo-Evangelicals.

(This is, by the way, why both RCs and Calvinists accuse Anglicans of vague, woolly theology. They're right.)

Do dis 'splain de problem?

Gareth Bezett said...

Where does the demand for Lay Presidency come from? Is it an attempt to further reform Anglican practices, or driven from a shortage of clergy?

In my own (New Zealand) Anglican parish, we have a number of lay people who are licensed by the diocesan bishop to take communion (reserved sacrement) to the sick, retirment homes, etc. This is an important part of our parish ministry. I see these people as extending our celebration of commuion. We have an abundance (plague?) of clergy and no real talk of lay presidency.

I don't know about in North America, but it seems to me that here, every church service has to include communion. We have multiple congregations meeting across three churches. The congregation that I worship with is the only one that donestn't celebrate communion at every service, we do it bi-weekly.

What happened to the tradition of mattins and evensong daily and communion on Sundays? (I know, the Oxford movement.) Instead of 1 or 2 services out of fourteen+ including the Eucharist, every service is now Eucharistic.

In our own situation, I'm a advocate of increasing the frequency of our worship, but reducing the frequency of communion. One effect of this would be to reduce the dominance of ordained minsitry in public worship.

Anonymous said...

LEM's or lay Eucharistic Ministers, undergo training and are licensed by the Diocese to assist in distributing the wine at communion. They can also be licensed as lay Eucharistic visitors or vice versa to bring conscrated elements to the homebound or to residents of nursing homes, etc. Both are supervised by clergy and must renew their license annually. I know of no where in TEC where lay ministers are allowed to be lay presiders or lay presidents. I believe Australia was considerung this last year.

Kevin said...


I thought about witing a disclaimer about Anglo-Cath and Roman Catholic, not desiring comfusion of what I was talking about (I grew up High Church Anglo-Cath but know the difference between two).

This one is written for the benefit of the causual reader, for you raised some really good points as well!


Anonymous said...


Most Episcopal congregations in the U.S. don't have enough congregants to support mattins or evensong.

My church for instance has maybe 40 active members and two services, but, could just use one service on Sunday. One is high church and one is low. We will last maybe four more years living off the endowment then close the doors.