A commenter on my previous post on lay presidency/diaconal presidency/Sydney draws attention to these issues, which also feature in discussion elsewhere re Sydney/presidency re lay presidency:
"In truth, I can't get too exercised about 'lay celebration' in a church that allows, nay encourages, 'lay preaching'. I have a hunch which of these - preaching or communion - impacts more on the life of a church. Does an Anglican priest exercise sole 'eldership' over a congregation, as you seem to imply, Peter? If he or she can share the preaching and leading of worship, why not 'presiding' at communion as well?"
Lay preaching and lay presidency: there is an attractive logic to the argument, if the parish priest can delegate the preaching duties to lay preachers, why not also the presiding duties ... especially if our underlying 'value' system refuses to prioritise 'word' over 'sacrament' and vice versa. I suggest, however, that this argument involves a confusion between 'gift' and 'office'. Lay preachers are appointed because in the distribution of gifts of ministry in the body of Christ they have been discerned as having appropriate gifts ("prophecy", "speaking") which enable them to serve the body of Christ in this way. (Incidentally in my view of things, lay preachers should preach ordinarily, and not just when the vicar is on holiday or cannot be in two places at once). The presiding at eucharist is not about who is gifted to do so, but about the character of the event which is the church gathering in communion for a symbolic meal. In Anglican understanding (IMHO) of the church gathering in fellowship for this meal it gathers around its local bishop as president, except when the bishop is not present it gathers around one of those with whom the bishop shares his or her presidency, namely one of the bishop's presbyters/priests. Thus the office of president of the eucharist is filled by the bishop, or a licensed presbyter/priest. This is our 'order' and this order should not lead to a deacon or lay person presiding, should there be a shortage of presbyter/priests, but could lead to new priests/presbyters being ordained.
Thus in terms of the comment above it is not a question of whether a priest exercises sole 'eldership' over a congregation but whether we share an ecclesiology in which the bishop and his/her college of presbyters/priests share eldership over a diocese. On this understanding it is entirely appropriate for a priest/presbyter from elsewhere in the Diocese to travel to another church to preside at the eucharist.
Nevertheless my thinking here can be objected to in this manner: the essential issue is 'order', order flows from the leadership of the bishop, and this order could extend from the bishop to include licensed lay presidents. Given that already in many parts of the world lay people are authorised to distribute communion (e.g. into the homes of the sick and infirm) and (perhaps less widely, but certainly in Aotearoa NZ) to preside over a communion service with appropriate words authorised from a prayer book and with elements previously consecrated, why could authorisation not extend to full presidency? Is the hesitancy to do this just an anglo-catholic hesitancy rather than a hesitancy shared more widely by Anglicans of other hues and stripes?
Again, I find this a reasonably attractive argument, and (to be honest) a compelling one re 'emergency' situations: if "even a lay person" can baptise an unbaptised person in an emergency, why could a lay person not preside at communion when all reasonable alternatives to securing the services of a licensed priest have been pursued?
Setting emergencies aside, I find I am not persuaded (or, not yet persuaded!!) by such an argument. If lay presidents are regularly used at the eucharist, and lay persons regularly preach, what use do we then have for priests/presbyters? If we say, 'well, none really, if we pursue the logic rigorously', then (effectively) we create a new version of priesthood in which the "new style priests" are licensed to minister but not ordained. If we say, 'well, we ordain priests/presbyters to the ministry of leadership', it does seem strange to me that such leadership is not primarily focused on leading communities of faith in the central act of worship, communion together in obedience to Christ's command.
Indeed I often observe a paradox in Anglican talk about lay presidency: since it is never talk of a Plymouth Brethren kind (i.e. any adult lay member of the congregation may, as the Spirit leads, step forward to preside over Communion) but always about an episcopally authorised lay person presiding, which, inherently, is about a lay person with the confidence of both parishioners and of bishop, the qualifications for lay presidents pretty quickly look very like the qualifications for being a priest/presbyter! If more presidents are needed for our eucharistic life, why not ordain more?