General Synod

of the Church of England. In 1969 the Synodical Government Measure replaced the Church Assembly with the General Synod, and transferred to the latter some of the Convocation* responsibilities. Like its predecessor, the synod consists of three houses: bishops (the two archbishops and all diocesan bishops), clergy (some ex officio, some elected by clergy on a diocesan basis), and laity (almost entirely elected by laity on a diocesan basis, with a few coopted). Under Parliament (so long as the Church of England remains by law established) the synod is the Church of England's central legislative body, meeting normally three times a year for week long sessions, and occasionally meeting separately by houses. It is elected (except for bishops who are all ex officio) by proportional representation on a diocesan basis, though the option of subdivision into smaller units has led to great diversity between dioceses and in some cases to the total annulment in practice of the proportional system which was designed to protect minorities.

Church assembly was set up by Parliament in 1919 by the Enabling Act, with elections every five years. Church assembly prepared measures for parliamentary approval, after which they became part of English law. The assembly rarely clashed with Parliament except on the famous 1928 draft Prayer Book, which Parliament twice rejected on doctrinal grounds. This action infuriated many bishops and a large number of High Churchmen. Evangelicals and some other High Churchmen were, on the other hand, relieved that doctrinal innovations had not been forced on the church. Later it was clear that Parliament saved the Church of England from the folly of most of its then leaders, and the 1954 Church and State Report recognized that many clergy and laity still believe that Parliament is a more reliable and impartial judge than the assembly, and perhaps even the new synod.

The general synod is much smaller than the church assembly and has been widely advocated as “bringing the laity in more.” Those laymen who have observed it closely are more inclined to regard it in terms of bureaucratic streamlining designed to minimize opposition from powerful minorities (such as defeated the Anglican-Methodist union scheme) and to concentrate effective power and control in the hands of a few people.