Google a Sydney Anglican website, look under “staff” and the chances are that you will find a bloke called a “minister”, “senior minister” or “pastor”. Look up the regulations and you will find that clergy are called “priests” or “presbyters” and “deacons”.
The pewsitter finds it interesting that the old titles have mostly vanished from everyday use. This is partly out of discomfort with the title “priest” which sort of implies that Jesus gets sacrificed again and also because the terms sound a bit antiquarian.
But underneath the titles our local clergy use day to day the old ones still exist: priests or presbyters are allowed to be in charge of churches, licensed to baptise and run Holy Communion. Deacons traditionally were priests in waiting, sort of like P-plate clergy.
A radical change in policy has changed those roles here in Sydney. Don’t worry – it is a good change but not as well known among pewsitters as it deserves to be.
Think of it like a railway journey – Sydney Anglicans have our own stations of the Cross. Being a deacon used to be like a trip from town to Macdonaldtown, the “blink and you miss it” rail station close to Moore College. You were there before you noticed, and it wasn’t much of a trip anyway.
But now to be a deacon is like heading off to a major station like Hurstville or Chatswood or Penrith – it’s a real destination and the trip could take some time. You don’t have to go near Moore College on the way – the new sort of deacon won’t necessarily have a uni degree. You can start the journey from Sutherland (where the Anglican Youthworks College is). But not from the pewsitter’s station at Croydon (home to SMBC). I am sad about that.
A wide variety of ministries from youthworker to chaplain can be recognised as long-term deacons.
Local churches still pick their own staff, whether ordained by the diocese or not. But the deacon label gives diocese-wide branding and will help people have a career in their ministry role, and move around.
The pewsitter thinks that it is an exciting change that should grow gospel work by encouraging a more diverse bunch of ministries.
But like many good things, there is a catch.
Up till now a large parish might have several priest/presbyters, with one of them in charge – sometimes called a “rector”.
Under the new policy ministers will become priest when they are considered ready to take charge of a parish. Only the senior minister will be a priest/presbyter.
The problem is that deacons can’t “do” Holy Communion. One church plant went a few years without the Lord’s Supper as they had no priest/presbyter. Parishes with more than one site and simultaneous services will have real problems organising Communion.
The diocese is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Either we need to find a way to give deacons the power to do Communion – and at present difficult-to-change church law prevents this. Or we need to go back to priesting clergy who are not in charge of parishes.
Otherwise there will be a drought of Holy Communion coming to a church near you.