I sometimes suspect that this question regularly crosses the mind of those charged with the day-to-day leadership of the Church of England. Most members of General Synod have relatively little to do with the church’s national life until they appear for meetings of the Synod. Then, who knows what havoc they may wreak? Like, this last week, the House of Laity refusing to co-opt the person who was wanted to chair the Dioceses Commission, but had unfortunately neglected to stand for election. From the outside it did seem to indicate a certain disdain for the relatively newly elected lay members, that none of them were judged adequate to chair the Commission.
That sort of dysfunction stems I think from a deeper confusion at the heart of General Synod. On the one hand its constitution is modelled on a parliamentary structure, with similar procedures for debating and passing legislation. But along with that sort of process comes the assumption of opposition. A motion that is to be debated has to be constructed around some being for, others against. So when there’s something genuinely divisive, debate has to polarise: there is no real process for seeking compromise or consensus. When an item of business is non-controversial, the pretence of debate is faintly farcical.
But a Synod is not a parliament: members are not elected as representatives of one party or another (though you might not know it from the way groups form in Synod). More significantly, Synod should not be a parliament: its aim should be to find a way forward together, not to enforce the will of the majority.
And that’s why we should bother with General Synod: because we really need a place which brings together all members of the Church across the various diversities: those who represent the life of the parishes along with those who spend their days in the national institutions; bishops clergy and laity all having a voice and a vote; those from the whole rainbow of church tradition. We should bother with Synod because of the ways in which it fails to live up to that purpose, as well as the ways in which it does.
The last thing anyone should wish (though it might make things more ‘efficient’) would be to take the decision making powers away from Synod. The pressures and irritations that everyone feels, from different perspectives, should be the agenda for reform.