Lay-led churches and communion (George Lings)

Monday, 22 June, 2009

George LingsGeorge Lings investigates lay-led churches and communion, in a short extract from the latest edition of Encounters on the Edge (41 - do network churches work?).

Another issue of ecclesial identity is provoked because the lay-led church is unhelpfully dependent on outside provision of clergy to give them communion. At worst, this is a return to Mass Priests. At best, it is a ceaseless reminder that such a congregation is in permanent dependency on those outside its life and is thereby somehow second class.

If Anglicans deem having a sacramental life essential to ecclesial life through dominical warrant, it is then tiresome, and probably damaging, that such communities are denied the fullness of this dimension. By this, they are made more fragile. Such scenarios have similarities to the nineteenth century overseas problems that bedevilled those works that were 'missions' but denied the status of 'churches'. They had problems of dependence on the professional missionary and on finally becoming designated churches promptly lost most missional desire or impact. Such patterns are not to be repeated.

In practice, members of both network churches in Deal and Sandwich spoke with restrained frustration at how difficult getting suitable 'cover' was and how it made them feel like 'the poor relation'. Understandably, those of a free church persuasion found this doubly irksome. They had no conviction that this priestly requirement was necessary and served only to demonstrate to them the ecclesial imperialism of Anglicanism.

Eucharistic Presidency is an irenic and scholarly read of the Anglican Bishops' last published view of the topic and makes a good case that what is at issue is the catholicity of the church. However, this now exists in tension with the bottom up creation of churches who seek a fullness (or second century Ignatian catholicity) of their life and rightly sense their local oneness is impaired by this arrangement of a near stranger heading up the family meal.

There is also the vexing issue of whether the church is better defined by its overall ministerial arrangements or its localised congregational life. If the number of lay-led fresh expressions grows, the issue will grow sharper.

About the author: 

George Lings is the director of The Sheffield Centre, Church Army's Research Unit. He specialises in church planting and fresh expressions, and Anglican ecclesiology.


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