General Synod of the Church of England

The General Synod is the deliberative and legislative body of the Church of England. The synod was instituted in 1970, replacing the Church Assembly, and is the culmination of a process of rediscovering self-government for the Church of England that had started in the 1850s.

Church Assembly: 1919 to 1970

Before 1919, any change to the Church's worship or governance had to be by Act of Parliament, which resulted in little being done.[1] In 1919, the Convocations of the Provinces of Canterbury and York adopted the constitution of the National Church Assembly proposed by the Representative Church Council and presented it to the King as an appendix to an address. The constitution as proposed to the Sovereign was then recognised as already existing in the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 thus obtaining legal recognition of the Assembly without implying that it had been created by Parliament or that Parliament could modify its constitution.[2]

By means of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 Parliament then gave the Assembly power to prepare Measures which, once presented to Parliament and approved by a special procedure (see below), were to "have the force and effect of an Act of Parliament" on "any matter concerning the Church of England", and included the power to repeal or amend Acts of Parliament concerning the Church.[3] The preparation of such measures lay mainly with a joint Legislative Committee of the three houses of the Assembly and this Committee negotiated with the parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee to reach an agreed form.[4]

The Act required that, after being passed by the Assembly, the measure had to be examined by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament which prepared a report to both houses. If then approved by each House, it was submitted to the Sovereign for Royal Assent. If MPs or members of the House of Lords were not content with a Measure then they could vote to reject it, but not amend it.[5] Once a measure had been agreed ("deemed expedient") by both Houses of Parliament, and received Royal Assent, it was (from 1926) printed with the Acts of Parliament for the year in question.

General Synod: from 1970


By the Synodical Government Measure 1969,[6] the Church Assembly renamed and reconstituted itself as the General Synod of the Church of England. It also took over almost all the powers formerly exercised by the Convocations of Canterbury and York.


The synod is tricameral, consisting of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. There are currently 467 members in total.

The House of Bishops is made up of the 30 diocesan bishops in the Province of Canterbury, the 12 diocesan bishops of the Province of York, the suffragan Bishop of Dover (in the Province of Canterbury), and seven other suffragan bishops (four from Canterbury and three from York) elected by all suffragan bishops.

The House of Clergy comprises clergy elected by the following:

Members of the House of Laity are elected by lay members of the Deanery Synod in each Diocese every five years by a system of single transferable vote. There are:

There are two or three synodical sessions per year (4–5 days each), one or two in Church House, Westminster, the other at the University of York, and each session is officially opened by the monarch. Meetings are presided over by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as joint presidents.


The functions of the synod are:

Measures or canons must be passed by a majority of the members of each house of the synod. Most other business can be passed by a majority of the members of the synod overall. However changes to church doctrine, rites and ceremonies, or the administration of the sacraments, can only be made in the form agreed by the House of Bishops. Also, changes in the services of Baptism or Holy Communion, as well as proposals for union with any other church, cannot be approved unless they have also been approved by a majority of the diocesan synods.[11] Some Measures do not extend to the Diocese of Sodor and Man unless so provided by a measure passed by the Sodor and Man Diocesan Synod and approved by Tynwald.[12]

The General Synod also elects some members of the Archbishops' Council.

Participant observers in the House of Bishops

From 1 December 2013 until 30 November 2016, eight "participant observers", each elected by and from among the female "senior priests" of a specific region, attended meetings of the House of Bishops. The eight first elected were:[13]

  1. Vivienne Faull, Dean of York (North East region)
  2. Annette Cooper, Archdeacon of Colchester (East Anglia region)
  3. Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney (South East region)
  4. Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells (South West region)
  5. Christine Wilson, Archdeacon of Chesterfield (East Midlands region)
  6. Joanne Grenfell, Archdeacon of Portsdown (South and Central region)
  7. Jane Tillier, Diocesan Adviser for Women in Ministry, Diocese of Lichfield (West Midlands region)
  8. Libby Lane, Dean of Women in Ministry (later Bishop suffragan of Stockport), Diocese of Chester (North West region)

During the period of this arrangement, two casual vacancies arose:

It was announced in June 2016 that the "participant observers" arrangement would be replaced from 1 December 2016 with an arrangement whereby six female bishops suffragan would be "[given] rights of attendance".[16]

See also


  1. Garbett, Cyril. The Claims of the Church of EnglandHodder & Stoughton:1947, pp.192f
  2. Iremonger, F.A. William Temple, OUP:1948, p.273
  3. Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 (1919 c.76 9 and 10 Geo 5) on the UK Statute Law Database website – retrieved 9 May 2008
  4. Neill, Stephen. Anglicanism Penguin:1960, p.437
  5. Neill, Stephen. Anglicanism Penguin:1960, p.437
  6. Synodical Government Measure 1969 on the UK Statute Law Database – retrieved 9 May 2008
  7. usually the Chaplain of the Fleet, the Chaplain General, and the Chaplain-in-Chief, or their Anglican deputies if the most senior chaplain is from a different denomination
  8. 16th Edition of the Canons of the Church of England – retrieved 9 May 2008
  9. It was through an amendment to the Canons that women were admitted to the priesthood – Canon C4B. The making of the Canon was authorised by the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993.
  10. For example, the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 (retrieved 9 May 2008) makes provision for those parishes which would not accept women priests to be overseen by alternative bishops)
  11. Constitution of the General Synod, set out in Schedule 2 of the Synodical Government Measure
  12. Gumbley, K F W (July 1994). "Church Legislation in the Isle of Man". Ecclesiastical Law Journal. 3: 240.
  13. Church of England – Final list of female representatives to House of Bishops (Accessed 5 December 2013)
  14. WATCH — A Report on the Developments in Women's Ministry in 2015 (Accessed 19 February 2016)
  15. Church of England — General Synod results (Accessed 12 October 2015)
  16. Church of England General Synod — House of Bishops summary of decisions, June 2016 (GS Misc 1144) (Accessed 30 June 2016)
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