The General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England. It came into being in 1970 under the Synodical Government Measure 1969, replacing an earlier body known as the Church Assembly. It comprises three houses: Bishops, Clergy and Laity.
The quinquennial elections to the Houses of Clergy and Laity have just taken place, and the results were announced on 15 October. 378 seats were contested (183 in the House of Clergy and 195 in the House of Laity). A list of the elected diocesan candidates can be found at:
Competition for seats was stiffer in 2010 than in 2005, with an average of 2.4 candidates per seat, comprising 2.1 per clerical seat (1.9 in 2005) and 2.8 per lay seat (2.3 in 2005).
Of the successful diocesan lay candidates, 54% are men and 46% women. This compares with a 65% female majority in Anglican congregations, according to the 2007 Church of England diversity audit. The Anglican figure in the 2005 English church census was 60%.
Of the successful diocesan clergy candidates, 71% are men and 29% women. This is a better representation of women than in the full- or part-time Anglican stipendiary ministry as a whole in 2008, when it stood at 20% (from Church Statistics, 2007/8).
Including the House of Bishops (all of whom are men), but excluding some ex officio, non-diocesan elected and co-opted members, this means that the overall composition of General Synod is roughly two-thirds men and one-third women.
Of the elected diocesan members, 54% sat in the 2005-10 General Synod and 46% are new. Slightly more clergy are new (49%) than laity (44%). 52% of women are new and 43% of men.
Traditionalists have been carefully studying the outcome of the elections, to assess the implications for the draft legislation on women bishops should it come back to General Synod in 2012 following the current consultation in the dioceses (at least half of which must approve it to bring it before General Synod again). The issue of women bishops has largely dominated these elections.
In a joint statement the Conservative Evangelical group Reform and the Catholic Group on General Synod have estimated that, having swapped their respective lists of candidates, 32% of the clergy and 35% of the laity who have just been elected to the Synod are likely to vote against the draft legislation unless it is amended to address the conscientious and scriptural concerns of traditionalists.
The groups therefore calculate that only one more clerical vote will be needed in order to prevent the measure securing the two-thirds majority in each of Synod’s three houses, which is required for the measure to pass.
However, in another statement, WATCH (Women and the Church) dismisses as premature this speculation that opponents of women bishops have made gains in the Synod elections. It comforts itself that some significant figures against the consecration of women bishops lost their seats, that there are now more women clergy on Synod, and that there are many members who did not declare their positions during the elections.
The new General Synod will meet in Church House, Westminster from 22 to 24 November. It will be inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen.
This post is derived from several sources, including reports in The Times of 19 October and the Church Times and Church of England Newspaper of 22 October (both of which also print the full lists of elected members). The analysis by gender and new members was undertaken by the present writer especially for BRIN.
In due course, there will doubtless be more systematic attempts to gauge the attitudes of members of General Synod to a raft of ecclesiastical and other matters. One of the last major surveys of Synodical opinions was by Religiousintelligence.com in December 2007. Response rates to such Synodical surveys are often very poor.
POSTSCRIPT [12 November 2010]
According to the Church Times for 5 November 2010, based on a briefing from the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, the average age of members of the House of Clergy rose from 49 in the 2005 Synod to 52 in 2010, and of members of the House of Laity from 53 in 2005 to 58 in 2010.
Also, for Synod as a whole, 61% of members of the 2005 Synod will be serving in the 2010 one, and the number of first-time members (deducting those with previous Synodical experience) is estimated at 35%. Ethnic breakdown of Synod membership is not yet known.