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(This document is a local (California USA) copy of



(A paper for new and continuing synod members)

The word ‘Synod’ comes from a Greek preposition meaning ‘together’. Synodical government as we know it in Australia began with the growing independence of the Church in the Colonies and election of bishops other than by appointment of the Crown. The first synod of the Diocese of Goulburn was held in 1866 after a synod conference in 1865 to determine a constitution for it.


The synods of the Dioceses in New South Wales are established by an Act of the New South Wales Parliament entitled Anglican Church of Australia Constitutions Act 1902.

The Diocesan Synod is elected for three years and normally has an annual session over a weekend in September. The time and place for the Synod are determined by the Bishop.

The Synod of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn has about 300 members, who must be communicants of the Church. The majority comprise the parish clergy and three elected lay members for each parish, and persons summoned by the Bishop under Section 14 of the Schedule to the Constitutions Act of 1902.

At the outset, the importance of the diocesan Synod in the government of the church should be recognised. It would not be too strong to say that in most things which are not the sole preserve of the Bishop it is the ultimate authority.

In Synod the bishops, clergy and lay representatives meet after prayer seeking the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in its deliberations. The decisions which it takes may at times have far-reaching effects on the future of the Diocese. It has therefore a relevance to all Anglicans and especially to those entrusted with leadership in diocesan and parochial life. The general power of synod is defined in the Anglican Church Constitutions Act of 1902, which says:

"The Synod of each Diocese (in the Province of New South Wales) may make ordinances upon and in respect of all matters and things concerning the order and good government of the Anglican Church and the regulation of its affairs within the Diocese, including the management and disposal of all church property, moneys, and revenues (not diverting any specifically appropriated, or the subject of any special trust, nor interfering with any vested rights), except in accordance with the provisions of any Act of Parliament, and for the election of appointment of churchwardens and trustees of churches, burial grounds, church lands and parsonages. And all ordinances of the Synod shall be binding upon the Bishop and his successors, and all other members of the Church within the Diocese, but only so far as the same may concern their respective rights, duties and liabilities as holding any office in the said church within the Diocese."

The constitution of Synods established under the Act of 1902 are confirmed by the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia which came into effect on 1 January 1962.


Members of Synod are elected at properly constituted parish meetings called for that purpose. Candidates must be 18 years of age or over, communicants and customary members of the parish. A statement that all voters are communicants must be signed by all present and voting. This document is returned to the Diocesan Registrar and certificates of election given to elected representatives before coming to Synod.

Under Clause 14 of the Constitution, the Bishop may summon the Chancellor and Registrar of the Diocese and "such clergy holding distinct official positions in the Diocese as the Bishop may determine, provided that for every clergy (member) so summoned a layman may be elected as a representative member under regulations of the Synod made for the purpose".


The synod process is designed to permit the maximum exercise of initiative by church members. Too many synods are controlled by a small group because the average member is not aware of the potential that exists for introducing new ideas. The business of synod falls into two main areas:

Internal Diocesan Affairs

Synod provides the opportunity for people from different parishes to meet for joint decision-making and debate on a number of questions including: evangelism, mission, liturgy, all aspects of ministry, church discipline and finance.

Finance is often judged as being of low importance but a budget offers a wonderful chance for us to clarify and agree on our priorities as Christians.

In all this there exist many opportunities for synod members to influence the direction of the church.

Community Affairs

A synod at every level allows Christians to express a Christian mind on any topic of concern to the community in which God has placed us.


Formal Matters

It would be useful if all Synod members became well acquainted with the Bishopric, Synod and Bishop-in-Council Ordinance of 1959, together with the Standing Orders of Synod. These documents will be circulated with the 1999 Synod papers.

At the beginning of each new Synod, members produce completed certificates of election and sign an attendance register. Members elected to fill ‘casual vacancies’ during the three year synod term need to produce certificates of election at their first session.

The Bishop and other senior clergy and officers of synod are seated on a dais, and members rise when the Bishop and other officials enter and leave the synod hall. It is courteous to acknowledge the President by a bow when entering or leaving the synod hall during a sitting. Microphones are installed at convenient points to enable everyone to hear speakers clearly. After getting the call to speak, a member should go to the nearest microphone. The Bishop is addressed as "Mr President", the Chair of Committees addressed as "Mr Chairman or Madam Chair".

The proceedings of Synod are based on the parliamentary model. The Bishop usually presides; but he hands over to the Chair of Committees, when an ordinance is being considered. At this point Synod goes into a Committee of the Whole to consider in detail the clauses in the proposed ordinance, which corresponds to a ‘bill’ (an ‘act’ when approved) in a House of Parliament.

The newcomer need not be overawed by procedures which may at first seem strange and complicated. An orderly pattern will soon become evident, and confidence should grow as one sees other members asking questions, raising points of order and generally participating in a friendly but candid spirit in the discussion of the varied affairs of the Diocese, and, indeed, issues which concern both the Church and community at large. This friendly feeling is perhaps the best insurance against undue nervousness. Synod works best when all take the fullest part possible in its business.

The Business of Synod

The order of business is set out in Part 7 of the Standing Orders mentioned above. In addition, a business paper, issued each day, clearly shows the order. The business paper for the first day of a session is posted to members not less than 14 days before the meeting of Synod with other Synod papers.

During the first day’s sitting, the Bishop delivers his presidential address or "charge" in which it is customary for him to speak about significant matters affecting the Church and nation.

Each day the business paper provides opportunities for presenting petitions and for giving notices of question and notices of motion. These notices are presented in writing and signed. The usual formula in giving these notices is: "Mr President, I give notice that, as soon as the business of Synod permits, I intend to move the following motion (or to ask the following question) ..." Considered replies to questions are usually given by the President the next day and laid on the table.

Ordinances normally take precedence over motions and it is normal for motions to accumulate for discussion later in the session. This often means that a number of motions still await consideration as the time for Synod draws to a close. As Synod is the chief legislative body of the Diocese, its legislative function is necessarily given a high degree of priority over most other business.

Notices of motion are listed on each day’s business paper by a Committee for the Order of Business and are debated in that order, but it is competent for a member to move that a notice of motion should be placed higher or deferred (if, for instance, it might not be possible for someone particularly interested to be present when the motion as then listed is likely to be discussed).

Every day of the session from the second day onward, before the orders of the day or motions are proceeded with, the President "calls" the motions in the order in which they appear on the business paper. Those on which no discussion is desired are then put without debate. It is open to any member, other than the mover or a member who seconded, or proposes to second, a motion to call "Object", in which case the option will not be put without debate, after the mover has an opportunity to speak to the motion for two minutes.

 Time Limits on Speeches

The Standing Orders of Synod provide for the timing of speeches but there is provision for extensions of time. Sometimes, on the other hand, debating times are shortened by resolution. At any time during a debate a member may ask the President whether in the latter’s opinion the question "has been sufficiently debated". If the President considers the question has been sufficiently discussed, a motion "that the question be now put" shall be decided. If that motion is carried, the original question is then put to the vote without further debate.

It should also be noted that when it is desired to avoid or postpone a decision, it shall be competent for any member to move, without notice, "that the Synod proceed to the next item of business". (See "Previous question", section 64 of standing Orders).

 Elections in Synod

Synod members are called to vote in numerous elections, especially during the first session of a new Synod. These include the election of diocesan representatives, clerical and lay, on General and Provincial synod and of members of Bishop-in-Council. The procedure for nomination and election is found in Part 12 of the Standing Orders.


Synod members can influence the course of synod by -

Getting Involved - Learn the process, study the papers, ask questions both within and outside synod, move or support a motion on a matter that interests or concerns you;

Discovering and using the most effective channels of influence

Involving your parish and parish council - Be enthusiastic! Report to your parish before and after synod. Make the synod realise that your parish is discussing synod issues and providing input.

Acting together with other synod representatives- Meet with other synod representatives from your parish and region. Work and pray through the synod papers and prepare for debates even if it appears that you are going to vote in different ways.

Keeping abreast with church affairs - Read Anglican News and other church newspapers and material.

Participating in the synod services and fellowship activities of synod- Attend all the synod services and organised meals such as the synod dinner. Sit with people from other parishes whom you may not have met before.

Writing to the Bishop or the Registrar after synod - Make suggestions for improving synod, suggest guest speakers for next year, maintain contact with other synod members you have met.

Hope for the Future?

In my eight years as a synod representative I have been affected by negative views (of synod) and have tended to take the parish’s view of synod as my own. During the past two years I have realised my mistake. Younger members, representing parishes which include my own, have shown a positive enthusiasm for the synod. They have appreciated the meeting of Anglicans from different traditions and, more importantly, from different social and pastoral situations. They have valued the opportunity to discuss major issues confronting the Church and Society, without the pressure of immediate parish business and the carry-over of relationships coloured by local topics. They have found that there is life outside their parishes and they seem to have been relieved at the discovery.

From "How to use synods", Administry Resource Paper 83:5, June 1983.

Brian Norris
Thursday, 8 July 1999

Acknowledgement: Some material has been based on "How to use synods", Administry Resource Paper 83:5, June 1983.