Lay presidency

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Lay presidency is a form of celebrating the Lord's Supper (sometimes called the Eucharist) whereby the person presiding over the sacrament is not an ordained minister of religion. Similarly, when the celebrant is a deacon rather than a presbyter, the term diaconal presidency is used.

Most independent Christian churches have a form of lay presidency as part of their communal worship. Mainstream denominations have been less inclined to allow lay people to preside over the sacrament, preferring to use ordained ministers or priests for this role.

One area of conflict for Evangelical Christians in mainline churches is that, while the sacrament is a "symbolic preaching of the gospel", only authorized and ordained ministers may preside, whereas non-ordained people are not allowed to do this, despite the fact that they are allowed in some cases to preach the gospel. What this situation does is elevate the importance of the sacrament over the preaching of the gospel - in other words, the symbolic preaching of the gospel is more important than the literal preaching of the gospel. Evangelical elements in some mainline churches, for example the Diocese of Sydney within the Anglican Church of Australia, are seriously considering introducing lay presidency because of this problem.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada authorise lay and diaconal presidency in certain extraordinary circumstances, within a finite time period and location.

In the United Methodist Church lay presidency is the norm. While many are ordained as presbyters (Elders) most "clergy" in the UMC are "commissioned" or licensed "local pastors." These laypersons while called "clergy" in the Book of Discipline are nonetheless not ordained. These lay persons are only allowed to celebrate the sacraments in their appointments. This action by the UMC is certainly a violation of Wesley's original intent for the Methodists in North America. It was his opposition to lay presidency that led him to ordain Vassey and Whatecoat in 1784. In 1996 the UMC abandoned its transitional Deacon position and made all recent seminary graduates "commissioned" Elders. There is no precedent for this ecclesiology in the history of the Christian Church. These "commissioned" Elders are licensed to be "local pastors" but are still considered lay persons by the UMC's ecumenical partners. This status remains for three years before one is officially ordained a presbyter. In some Annual conferences over 50% of the clergy are non ordained lay persons. There is a move to restructure the orders of ministry in the UMC at the 2008 General Conference, but most observers believe it will fail and the UMC will continue to have most of its clergy drawn from lay persons.