When I was training for the ministry, I remember someone drily commenting that the word president came into use for church orders of service around the time of Watergate. It wasn't the best start for the word used in Church of England service books to refer to the person who has the overall responsibility for officiating during a service of Holy Communion.
Apparently the C of E considered various options - putting priest probably upset people who prefer the word presbyter, and explaining that it includes bishops makes it all a bit wordy. Some churches use celebrant on their own leaflets, but that wasn't adopted. The movement to renew the liturgy, both in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in the 60s and 70s took very seriously the participation of all the people. As all the people gathered are celebrating, they didn't single out the person overseeing the celebration. In the end they settled on president.
My experience is that whenever anyone suggests lay people might preside at an Anglican communion it prompts a reaction. In the comments on my previous post, it was called 'daft'. I have witnessed otherwise reasonable Anglican clergy get very upset - often very much more upset than they do about lots of other issues. So I thought I'd use this post to muse a little about the issue and, having lit the touch paper, wait for some reaction.
Opponents are often dismissive, or resort to an appeal to tradition which is little more than "we've always done it this way, so it must be right". It may well be right, but it needs better argumentation. We can't be entirely sure of what happened in the very earliest days of the church - the New Testament indicates a period of transition, so I suspect it wasn't as tidy as some would suggest. However, it would be hard dispute that our current Anglican practise mirrors what most of the church has done for most of its history. Whether it has an authentic continuity with that historic ministry remains a very big question in Anglican-Catholic relations.
Let's do a thought experiment, which is contrived and silly, but might help us to get started. Imagine you're invited to Desert Island Communion. You're all lay people, washed up on a desert island with little immediate hope of rescue - it's a Robinson Crusoe job. Remarkably there is bread and wine, and with no prospect of a suitably ordained minister being present, the gathering has an ad-hoc communion. The question is whether it's a real communion or not. For some people, it would be irregular - put crudely, it's not conforming to the normal rules of the church, but as it's exceptional circumstances God turns up. For others, it will be impossible for that to be true. Depending which side you you land probably determines a lot of the rest of the discussion.
Over the years, my observation is that the proponents of lay presidency (which is what we call it in the trade) fall into a number of categories. However the different character of the arguments is rarely addressed, and is usually just dismissed.
The first example I came across in my school Christian Union. We had a weekend away, and some people wondered if we could just 'do' a communion. It was innocently proposed as a nice idea, but for reasons I can't remember it didn't happen. I don't recall having an opinion at 16, and I suspect quite a lot of people don't. The second are people from church backgrounds where an ordained person isn't required, but have subsequently started attending Anglican churches. "Having someone authorised makes sense, but why can't the Reader do it?" said a Baptist to me once. From their previous experience, it was a reasonable question.
However, there are people with more of an axe to grind - either simply rebels or pragmatists who think that the solution to the communion problem (see previous post) isn't extended communion, but lay presidency. As I've already said, I don't think any of the available options should be adopted as a quick fix for that issue, so my answer to them would be the same; it's answering the wrong question.
The most interesting rationale I heard for lay presidency was described by Tina Baxter at a meeting I attended in the early 90s. It was more persuasive because it didn't ignore the importance of history or ordination in the Anglican tradition and sought to put the possibility of lay presidency into an Anglican structure. Her argument was essentially that ordination to the priesthood/presbyterate was primarily ordination to responsibility - for the life, nurture, ministry and mission of a church. Priests delegate and share many of these responsibilities - including ones which are key to people's spiritual life and nurture - notably teaching the faith and leading some of the liturgy. In extremis lay people can even baptize, but all under the ultimate supervision of a priest/presbyter. Her question was, therefore, why is eucharistic presidency different. [That's my brief recollection of a discussion from 17 or 18 years ago, and it was a question, so don't hold her to that!]
Personally I think lay presidency is theoretically possible - I don't regard ordination to the priesthood as being primarily ordination to preside at the eucharist. Nor do I regard appeals to historic continuity as ultimately persuasive. Other ancient churches regard me as a lay person, so even my qualification to preside is already a matter of opinion and dispute. However, I don't think it's a constructive proposal in practise. We're already a church plunged into disputes about the legitimacy of people's ministries - based on gender, sexual orientation, doctrinal belief and so on. The last thing we need is another. And I suspect that the only driver to consider it would be pragmatism, which is the last reason to proceed.