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Synod's structures contrast with Convention's

By Matthew Davies
7/8/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The Church of England's main legislative body, General Synod, meeting July 7-11 at York University, England, differs to the Episcopal Church's General Convention in more ways than one.

Continuing its historic association with the State, the Church of England maintains an established relationship with the parliamentary structures of the British government and the Queen, who remains its titular head. It continues a tradition of synodical government which has its origins in the medieval period. Measures passed by Synod also need parliamentary approval. An overview of the Church of England's legislative processes can be found at: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/about/gensynod.

Described as "the national assembly of the Church of England," the General Synod was inaugurated in 1970 under the Synodical Government Measure 1969, replacing an earlier body known as the Church Assembly.

Unlike General Convention, which meets for the most part in its two separate houses of Bishops and Deputies, the three houses of Synod -- bishops, clergy and laity -- invariably meet in joint sessions biannually, once each in London and York. A third session is scheduled for later in the year, usually November, should Synod need to convene for additional legislative meetings. Despite meeting in joint sessions, a request for a vote by houses can be requested.

In addition to meeting at the Synod's two or three sessions each year, England's bishops convene a further three times, similar to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops which meets twice yearly.

With its 466 members, including 53 bishops, General Synod comprises the Convocations of Canterbury and York, the two internal Provinces of the Church of England. In contrast, General Convention is composed of up to four clergy and four laity from each of its 111 dioceses, and all bishops -- diocesan, suffragan, assistant, coadjutor and retired -- are considered members.

Once retired, Church of England bishops are no longer members of Synod, unlike Convention's policy which allows them voice but no vote.

England's House of Bishops consists of the two archbishops and all diocesan bishops, with six suffragan bishops elected from the Province of Canterbury and three from the Province of York, and any other bishops residing in either Province who are members of the Archbishops' Council.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, as well as being spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, is Primate of All England and Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and its 30 dioceses.

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, is Primate of England and Metropolitan of the 14 dioceses in the Province of York.

The "Upper Houses" of the two Convocations combine to form the House of Bishops and the "Lower Houses" combine to form the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. They have a tricameral legislature, normally meeting in plenary, but occasionally meeting separately, as contrasted with General Convention's larger bicameral system, which typically meets in two houses, but with occasional plenary sessions.

Representatives of other Churches are invited to attend Synod with voice, but no vote. Elections to form a new General Synod take place every five years.

A history of the Church of England can be found online at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_76557_ENG_HTM.htm.