That the Diocese of Sydney persists in permitting deacons to “administer the Lord’s Supper”, even after this has been declared unconstitutional, will surprise no-one. For decades the usual teaching in Sydney has viewed sacraments merely as acted preaching, a subordinate adjunct to the ministry of the word. Indeed D Broughton Knox, principal of Moore College 1959-85, taught that water baptism was only an “apostolic custom” which might be replaced, for example, by converts giving their testimony (Selected Works, Volume II: Church and Ministry [Sydney: Matthias Media, 2003]). A friend in Sydney has told me of churches where this teaching appears to have been put into practice.
The stated reason for allowing deacons to “administer” the Eucharist is Sydney’s practice of restricting presbyteral ordination to rectors of parishes. This, it is claimed, is Biblical. But the New Testament describes local churches in which there were presbyters, plural. They can’t all have been the one in charge, so must have shared in the presidency and pastoral care of the community. This in plain common sense must have included the weekly synaxis and breaking of bread as its principal act. Likewise presbyters, plural, are to be called for if anyone is sick (James 5:14). The presbyterate in the New Testament is a collegial ministry of word and sacrament in which there is room for complementary roles. For Sydney, however, it is monarchical, and mainly about designating the man with the power.
For Anglicans faithful to universal tradition, a “Eucharist” presided by a deacon is no more than a simulated sacrament. Sadly this is now all that is on offer to Anglicans in Sydney’s hospitals and prisons, since chaplains can’t be priests. Even the dying can have no guarantee of receiving the “last and most necessary Viaticum” mandated by the Council of Nicea (Canon 13). Much has been said about the unconstitutional nature of Sydney’s actions, but little, as far as I know, about the spiritual harm that may result.
You report Archdeacon Narrelle Jarrett as saying, “it is a tragedy that deacons cannot fulfil the full sacramental ministry”. No; the tragedy is that Sydney refuses to give priestly ordination to those who need it for their ministry. It is a tragedy entirely caused by the revisionist and unscriptural theology of ministry which Sydney has embraced.
The Revd Matthew Duckett