I am going to throw something out there that may be a hot button topic for some (at least it is for some here in the SW MN Synod). I hope that by me writing this I don’t get myself "in trouble" with the synod, but my guess is that they would want a pastor willing to speak their mind. So I am going to go with that belief.
The topic I want to throw out there is the issue of lay presidency. If you don’t know what this is basically it is the celebration of Holy Communion where a lay person (instead of an ordained clergy person) presides. In SW MN and other rural synods this is an important practice in some areas because of the lack of pastors (in the Minneapolis, St. Paul synods and other urban areas this is NOT an issue because of the plethora of additional pastors waiting for call or retired). Sometimes small churches have to rely on lay leaders to lead their congregations in worship (and preside at communion). Because of this problem in rural areas there are programs such as Faith Builders and SAMs (Synodically Authorized Ministers). To limit lay presidency would be to limit a congregation’s access to the Lord’s Supper.
Recently, lay presidency has come under scrutiny among many bishops and has been a heated topic of discussion at synod assembly. When I has on internship lay presidency was an issue. My supervisor wanted me to preside at communion at least once before I left. So he was able to get the bishop’s approval for one service (and lucky for me because the bishop before him would not have given the authorization). I don’t get it. A person can do a lot more damage preaching than they could presiding at communion. As I heard a colleague quote someone, "Any idiot can read the words of institution" (not that pastor’s are idiots…you get my point). As people (as pastors, SAMs or the like) we add nothing to the bread and wine. Our faith (or knowledge) does not make communion any more effective or ineffective. As our mantra says its "Word alone". God’s Word does the work…not us.
Now…I do understand maintaining "good order" (that is the reason the Church requires ordained pastors to preside at communion) but if you have a SAM or some other trained person, why can’t they preside in extreme cases? Rural ministry has a number of challenges that urban areas do not have (or do not understand). We have small congregations fighting to stay open. We have faithful, hungry people longing for the Lord’s Supper. Why do we have to limit the leadership to a select group of people?
I guess the next question would be…then why go to seminary? Why have a group of people set apart for the ministry of word and sacrament? Why not just become a Synodically Authorized Minister…that would be cheaper? The thing is…pastors do serve a purpose. We are not any more special than anyone else. Our calling is not any more important than the calling to be a garbage collector. And lay presidency is not going to minimize the role of pastors. All that lay presidency will do is allow flexibility in proclaiming this the gospel…something that is free…something that we have no right to "control".
So…where do you stand on this? Is it okay for a lay person to preside at communion (in extreme situations)? Should bishops be free to give this authorization? Am I missing something in my argument? I would love to hear from you.
I know there are many various different opinions out there and I am not trying to minimize those…I am simply stating my belief and current frustrations. I honor other beliefs and encourage healthy dialog. So leave you comments here…I (and others) would love to hear from you.