I received a comment overnight on the thread to yesterday's post, LET THEM GET ON WITH IT! For some reason its author removed it, which is a shame because it contained a very good question: Would my "live and let live" suggestion allow lay presidency at the Eucharist?" Without revealing the identity of the person who posed this question I will try to answer it.
Firstly, I would emphasise that I'm not recommending a free for all. That would be silly and we are quite capable of using our common sense when deciding what local practices should be censured and which ones should be allowed. For example, if a local church wanted to replace its Sunday morning Eucharist with a lap dancing session, this may do wonders for the financial standing of that church but, the thing is, it would no longer be a church. It would be a lap dancing club.
However, even turning a church building into a sex club is not a doctrinal matter in my opinion, and nor are same sex marriages, women bishops and lay presidency. These are all ecclesial matters. But, I would suggest that there is a difference in type between, on the one hand, same sex marriage and women bishops and, on the other hand, lay presidency. The former are merely extensions of something the Church already does. The latter would be a distinctly new thing that would turn the Anglican Church into something distinctly different in the same way as getting rid of bishops would.
Not that such a change would matter to God. Jesus instituted the holy communion but he did not institute the offices of the Church. At the beginning of the Christian religion there were no priests or bishops. Then there was a period when either priests and bishops were the same thing or some regional churches had priests and some bishops. What these priests and bishops did in respect of holy communion is not known. The offices of the Catholic church developed over time as did the duties of the officers. And the episcopal system is not universal. Many denominations do not insist that an ordained priest presides at the Eucharist. Personally I do not dismiss the efficacy of sacraments conducted in such churches. But the church order of the Anglican Communion is based on the three fold ordained ministry. I am not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing but it is one of the things that gives an Anglican church it's identity and makes it different from some other denominations.
Therefore, deciding to allow churches that want to instigate lay presidency to do so would be a far bigger and more important decision for the Anglican Communion than allowing churches to marry same sex couples or ordaining women to the episcopate because it would alter the structure of the Church and significantly change its presenting identity.
But this is not to say lay presidency should never be allowed. There is a significant number of local churches that would like to see the Anglican Communion allowing the practice and it will be something that is discussed seriously, probably as soon as we sort out our present disagreements. If lay presidency is eventually allowed (and I do mean allowed - same sex marriage and women bishops have to be allowed as well - I'm not suggesting that we all just do what we like when we like) then I would consider any churches that adopt the practice to be as Anglican as I am. In fact, and this is purely a personal thing, I would be more comfortable taking communion from a female member of the Anglican laity than from a male priest who believes that women can only have a subservient role in the church.
Finally, I do have one practical suggestion. Communion by extension should be allowed at the discretion of parish priests (or their equivalent in provinces without a parish system). I see absolutely no reason why the elements of holy communion that have been prayed over by an ordained priest should not be administered by a member of the laity who has their congregation's permission to do so. This simple change, which is catholic and which has been practiced in various places and situations for two thousand years, would allow our Church to remain active anywhere there was a member of the Church. To refuse to offer the holy sacrament in certain places just because there isn't a priest around to offer it in person is denying people the body and blood of Christ and his real presence among them. As communion by extension is very much just a matter of church order it is, in my opinion, an abomination that we are still arguing over whether or not it should become common practice. And for goodness sake, we are already doing it whenever a member of the laity takes the sacrament to a housebound member of the Church.
Perhaps the allowance of communion by extension should be the next step the Anglican Communion takes before it even begins to consider the issue of lay presidency.