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[HoB/D] Visiting the Mother Church in Legislative Assembly
Note: Thanks to Peter Owen, +Pierre Whalon and others who helped me
correct some errors in the initial draft of this report. All remaining
errors are my own, and I welcome further clarification and correction. -- LC
On July 11-15 I visited the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in York. General
Synod is their body that most closely parallels our General Convention. I noted many
similarities and differences. Most of this report focuses on procedural comparisons. See my
response to "the Jeffrey John mess" in my Natter Collection at
General Synod is much younger than General Convention. The Church of England moved to
synodical governance in 1970. General Convention was created in 1789. General Synod is
still tinkering with their structures, and have made it fairly easy to change.
With over 1,000 members, General Convention is just under twice the size of General Synod.
There were 579 members present at the July meeting of Synod. There are about 260 lay and 260
clergy members at any one time. All 44 diocesan bishops are members, plus 9 suffragans
(elected by the suffragans). In ECUSA, each of the 109 dioceses may send up to 8 deputies
(4 clergy/4 lay), for a maxium of 872. Any one of the 322 living ECUSA bishops may attend,
though in 2000, only 173 attended, including 35 bishops then retired. General Synod does not
have any retired bishops.
Deanery synods elect the members of their diocesan synod every three years and elect
representative to General Synod every five years.. There are also representatives of
Chaplains in the armed forces, prisons and universities, as well as members of religious
communities. See http://www.ely.anglican.org/ministry/leaflets/gensynod.html
for more background.
General Synod began by having three meetings a year for five days each, but now has two
meetings, each for five days, with a date reserved for a third meeting if required. In a
triennium ECUSA's General Convention meets for only 10 days. In the same period Synod meets
for 30 days. Synod's meeting frequency more closely matches that of ECUSA's Executive
Council, which in the current triennium has met for 36 days.
The Church of England also has the Archbishops' Council, established in 1999 to co-ordinate,
promote, aid and further the mission of the Church of England. It is composed of 19 members
and 7 directors whose task is to give a clear sense of direction to the Church nationally
and support the Church locally. ECUSA's Executive Council is the govering body of ECUSA
between General Conventions and is composed of 18 members elected by the nine provinces and
20 members elected by the General Convention.
The Church of England has 43 domestic dioceses, plus its Diocese in Europe as well as
churches in Morocco, Turkey and the Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. ECUSA has
100 domestic dioceses, plus 9 outside the United States.
The Church of England has two provinces -- York (Northern) and Canterbury (Southern),
each with its own archbishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate. ECUSA has
nine provinces; a Presiding Bishop serves as primate.
The Church of England is episcopally led (there are 108 bishops) and synodically governed.
ECUSA is both led and governed by General Convention (currently 106 bishops have
jurisdiction, with three other dioceses vacant. See
The Church of England has over 16,000 churches. ECUSA has 7,344.
See additional statistics for the Church of England at
and additional statistics for ECUSA at
Only 3% of General Synod members are persons of color, vs. 9% of the membership of the
Church of England. Cf. 12.7% of the House of Deputies are persons of color, 19% of all
ECUSA bishops are persons of color; and only 2.5% of all ECUSA members are persons of color.
Clearly General Convention has achieved more diversity in it leadership than has Synod.
I could not count the number of women in General Synod, but it seemed significantly large:
Five percent of ECUSA's active bishops are women; the Church of England has not yet approved
women bishops. Since bishops are appointed, not elected, in the Church of England, it
should be fairly easy to rectify the injustice once the Synod commits itself to doing so.
24.4% of ECUSA's clerical deputies are women Female lay deputies outnumber the male lay
deputies in General Convention, 26. to 24 of the House.
Terms are for five years for everyone, and then there is a new election for all seats.
General Synod has three houses (Bishops, Clergy, Lay) which meet together. One meeting
each year is at the Great Hall of York University, where members sit in theatre seats in the
round, looking down on a center section, with a platform at the front. Most members have no
writing surfaces. They do not carry huge notebooks. Most papers are circulated by mail a
few weeks before each group of sessions. Notice papers and order papers are issued during
I mentioned to one member at tea break that the Archbishop of Canterbury seemed to me rather
isolated seated at one of only four writing tales, in the audience to the right of the
session chair. "He's not isolated at all," I was assured, "but completely in control,
without the work of moderating the meeting. The interesting thing to many about seating
last night was to note where the Bishop Graham Dow was sitting -- in the back of the bishops
sitting at the front, and sitting alone, with only a few groupies from his diocese." Bishop
Dow is much quoted all over England for his comment in an interview on Newsnight on June 16
2003: "The penis belongs to the vagina: that is something fundamental to the way God has
Reminds me of the theme I received from an Auburn football player my first year of teaching,
in 1958, which began "There are two sexes in the world, male and female." Well....
There is a 6 digits `score board' set of lights high above the platform. The first 3 digits
are the number of the member currently speaking. The second three digits are used for the
number of the agenda item currently being addressed. When one is acknowledged to speak, one
gives one's number, name, and diocese. Thereby anyone with a roster can readily check who
is speaking and what the subject is. The system is quite simple and works very well.
At his first time to speak in York, one speaker provoked joyful laughter when he
introduced himself as "Double O One, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury." The
Archbishop of York is "002."
The hall was usually completely quiet when members spoke. It was also about a third the
size of most rooms which hold the House of Deputies alone.
Speakers are acknowledged for up to 5 minutes unless otherwise restricted. Speakers
introducing items of business are usually allowed longer. Sometimes the first few
speakers in a debate are also allowed more than 5 minutes. The chair normally
reduces the speech limit as the debate proceeds. By contrast, speakers are allowed
only three minutes in ECUSA's House of Deputies, and that is often reduced in the
press of business near the end of the convention. There are not time limits on how
long one may speak in ECUSA's House of Bishops..
Applause is allowed, and even encouraged. Rules of Order for the House of Deputies forbid
Humor seemed much more frequent at General Synod. E.g., one member spoke of a clergyman
who was caught in an embarrassing situation in a tub with two parishioners, and told the
intruder, "The best that I can say is that this is a baptism that went horribly wrong."
Chairs rotate. The current panel of chairs comprises one bishop, four clergy and four
laity. Typically, each one chairs three or four items of business during one group of
sessions. The Archbishops are not on the panel, and only take the chair for a short
time at the beginning of a group of sessions and for a few items of formal business.
The platform is far less cluttered than ours in the House of Deputies. There are only
three people, the chair, a lawyer (always in wig) and a third. person, who is a member
of synod staff. There is a panel of three lawyers, but we see only one at a time.
I did not observe any votes by orders, though presumably they may be called for.
Peter Owen tells me, "A Division by Houses (as we call it) is compulsory for a few
items of business. In addition the chair can call for one, and must do so if 25
members ask for one.
"In a Division by Houses members are counted as they leave the chamber through the
appropriate doors. This takes about 15 minutes.
General Synod does not have electronic voting, but did not seem to need it either.
Most amendments are automatically debated, although in some cases there
is only a debate and a vote if 40 members will stand to indicate they
want the matter discussed (not necessarily indicating that they will
vote for it).
There are very few motions of order at Synod, and the sessions seem decidedly less formal
and more relaxed than those of ECUSA's House of Deputies. Meeting as frequently as they do,
and being nearly half our size, most members of General Synod know one another.
Only the two archbishops can allow new business to be added to the agenda, which is
drawn up about five or six weeks in advance of a Synod session.
One evening in York was devoted to any questions that members wanted to ask. Peter Owen
tells me that there are questions at every group of sessions. Questions were submitted in
writing beforehand, 129 of them at the July meeting. They are addressed to officers of
Synod and to Committee Chairs. A priority number is assigned to each question and the
Synod goes through as many as it can in two and a half hours (about 70 of the 129
this session). Near 10 pm, the scheduled time to end the session, the chair indicated
that she was prepared to extend the length of time for the questions for 15 minutes if
the members wanted her to; the response was a resounding `no!'
All members General Synod have a copy of the questions in advance. When a respondent has
completed an answer, any member may rise and shout "Supplementary!" and if acknowledged,
the member may ask additional questions related to the written one. This obviously allows
some freedom to raise questions for which there are no prefabricated responses, and was much
the liveliest part of the evening. For example, although the Archbishops had decided the day
before to postpone any discussion of the Jeffrey John affair until a later meeting, giving
time for reflection, many members asked questions related to it when they heard a report from
Bishop Gladwin (Guildford) representing the Archbishops' Council. Will single clergy now be
subject to invasions of their privacy in the wake of Canon John's stepping down? asked
Richard Thomas, a member and also the Communications Officer of the Diocese of Oxford, where
Jeffrey John had been appointed as a bishop. Bishop of Guildford welcomed the opportunity
to clarify that he had heard from many gay and lesbian clergy who are living in fear. He
stressed that trust must be restored and that it is important for the church to be a safe
space, where privacy is respected..
The chair of the meeting acknowledged most "supplementaries," but when they threatened to
become too numerous for any one of the 128 questions, she moved on to the next question
expeditiously. She also ruled several `supplementaries' out of order when they were taking
a completely new direction not related to the original written question that had been
Attending Synod is much less expensive than attending General Convention, at least for the
York meeting. (The other meeting each year is at Church House in London, and I understand
that meetings are similar at both venues.) Members stay in the dormitories
of York University, which had cleared the campus only earlier that opening day. I observed
the comings and goings of at least two different graduation ceremonies at the Great Hall
before Synod sessions began there in the evening. It is at least two miles to any
restaurants, and all dining for members is in a campus refectory. Security was almost
non-existent until Peter Tatchell, leader of the British gay group Outrage!, invaded the
meeting. Thereafter even the tea breaks became inaccessible to visitors for a day or so.
Exhibits are minimal, and minimalist -- a few tables in the area below the Great Hall, and a
few table scattered in the various dormitories. Most had only a few handouts; some had
books. Much of the main sociability occurred in the pubs of the various colleges of the
Worship took less time of Synod than it does of General Convention, though it was regular
and integral to the common life (morning, noon, and night). I missed the tables and
interaction of General Convention and Executive Council, where visitors and members join
without distinction in bible study and prayer. The most moving worship was Sunday Eucharist
at York Minster (the historic cathedral). You can read the Archbishop of Canterbury's
sermon at http://anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/35/00/acns3506.html
How ironic that the Gospel lesson was about another John besides Jeffrey, who also had his
head delivered on a silver platter.
Almost every newspaper in England covered Synod, most every day, many on the front page.
That's what it means to be the Established Church, albeit a small portion of the British
population. Peter Tatchell, the leader of Outrage!, made that point quite poignantly when
he invaded the session. Someone complained that he was interrupting their business. "But
you have not been willing to debate the subject," he exclaimed. "But you are not a member,"
someone responded." "But you are the church of all England," Tatchell rejoined, "not just
of those who attend on Sunday. You are given seats in our nation's Parliament, and you
consistently use your clout to vote against justice for lesbian and gay people."
I applaud the Archbishop for suffering through the interruption. He surely knew that if he
left, the meeting would be adjourned, as did happen after he had listened for twenty-five
minutes or so. Changing Attitudes (a lesbigay group within the Church of England) and the
Lesbian Gay Christian Movement (a British ecumenical group) were clearly not party to
Tatchell's tactics, but unquestionably Tatchell's historic appearance forced the Synod to
deal with the issue everyone else in England was asking about in the wake of Canon Jeffrey
John's stepping down. I shall never forget the beauty as the choir recessed singing the
Shortly after Peter Tatchell had interrupted Synod, Rt. Rev. Peter Selby, Bishop of
Worcester (my colleague on the editorial board of the WITNESS MAGAZINE), teased me by
welcoming me noting `how much calmer and less contentious the Church of England is than
Many of the other items on Synod's agenda parallel those which we have faced before, or will
face in Minneapolis, not just the conflict about same-sex issues. They have passed
resolutions regarding global issues of mission, war & peace, poverty, AIDS, relief, racism,
and the like. One session at the July meeting was devoted to ecumenical issues with the
Methodists (who are proportionately less numerous in Britain than in the Unites States).
Much attention was given to reports of anti-racism work, and it was noted forcefully that
some dioceses had taken the project seriously (Southwark and Litchfield were cited), while
others (Oxford and London were sited) gave it short shrift -- and the Diocese of London has
one of the highest concentrations of persons of color in the congregations.) Another block
of time was devoted to reviewing standards of professional conduct of clergy, much as we
have reviewed our disciplinary canons. Synod discussed the use of gender-neutral titles,
postponed at an earlier meeting but reintroduced by the Diocese of Birmingham, whose
representative complained that they would be treated shabbily if the postponement were used
as a way not to have the discussion at all.
This seemed to me an interesting procedural point to make if the postponement to a later
meeting of the discussion of sexuality issues is later used as a means to avoid the
discussion altogether. See http://www.cofe.anglican.org/synod for an archive of Synod's
reports since November 2000.
My visit to Synod was refreshing, a good reminder that things don't fall apart even when
they seem to for a spell. It was good to reflect on a busy agenda freed momentarily from
obligations to partipate. I had an outsider's view of the proceedings, and I sometimes had
the notion that many would have behaved differently, more lovingly for one another, if they
too had kept Jesus's perspective, that the world will know that we are His disciples by how
much we love one another. I hope that I can manifest that love in the thick of our meeting
For a more meticulous report of a meeting of Synod, see Peter Owen's report for the York
meeting in 2002 as presented by Anglicansonline at
Visit http://anglicansonline.org later in July for his careful report of this year's
meeting in York.
Lutibelle/Louie, L2 Newark, Member of Executive Council