A General Synod explainer

Members pray before the start of a session at General Synod 2010 in Halifax. File Photo: Art Babych/Anglican Journal
Members pray before the start of a session at General Synod 2010 in Halifax. File Photo: Art Babych/Anglican Journal
Published June 27, 2016

From July 7-12, more than 250 Anglicans from across Canada will gather in Richmond Hill, Ont., for the 41st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. Over the course of six days, they will worship, discuss matters of national and international importance and consider and act on legislation affecting the whole church.

But what is the General Synod, and how is it organized? How does it make and change its laws?

In the Anglican tradition, the General Synod is the highest governing body in the church. Although the Anglican Church of Canada is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, it has final authority over its own affairs. It can pass, alter and strike down its own laws (or, in church parlance, “canons”).

The General Synod meets every three years, unless otherwise determined by the Council of General Synod (CoGS), provided such meetings are not more than five years apart, according to the Constitution of the General Synod (CoGS is the governing body between national meetings of General Synod.)

This explainer discusses the composition of General Synod, and its legislative process.

Who Is General Synod?

Delegates and Members

The General Synod is composed of clergy and lay delegates elected at the diocesan synods of every diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada.

These delegates are divided into three orders: the Order of Laity, the Order of Clergy and the Order of Bishops. The Order of Bishops, whose members are automatically delegates to the synod, includes the primate, provincial metropolitans, diocesan bishops, coadjutor and suffragan bishops, assistant bishops who have been designated by the synod/executive of their dioceses and who exercise episcopal duties within those dioceses, the Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces and the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.

Members of the General Synod can voice their opinions on the floor, and have a responsibility to vote on synod business, unless they have a conflict of interest such that they stand to benefit financially from the matter under consideration.

While members are elected at diocesan synods, they are not considered to be their representatives; they are free to vote however they choose. “People aren’t there to represent the interests of the diocese but to bring the perspective of their situation, their setting in ministry, to consideration of national issues,” explains Archdeacon Michael Thompson, in an orientation video prepared by General Synod Communications. “As it’s true in Canada as a civic society, there’s a lot of diversity that needs to be represented and that diversity, when it comes into good conversation, makes us stronger.”


The General Synod also has a number of officers with specific responsibilities:

President and Chairperson: As primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz serves as the synod’s chair, as well as its president and CEO.

The president is responsible for maintaining order and decorum at the meeting. In the primate’s absence, the provincial metropolitan by appointment of election, shall act as president of synod.

Prolocutor: Archdeacon Harry Huskins, diocese of Algoma
The prolocutor, who is elected at each General Synod, assists the president in affairs of synod, and in the president’s absence may serve as chair of the General Synod. The prolocutor or the deputy prolocutor, whichever is a member of the Order of Clergy, acts as the order’s chairperson.


Deputy Prolocutor: Cynthia Haines-Turner, diocese of Western Newfoundland

At the request or in the absence of the prolocutor, the deputy prolocutor performs any function assigned to the prolocutor by the church’s Constitution or Canons or Rules of Order and Procedure.

General Secretary: Archdeacon Michael Thompson, diocese of Niagara

The general secretary is the chief operations officer of General Synod, responsible for arranging meetings of the General Synod and CoGS. The general secretary is also assistant to the primate in the primate’s capacity as General Synod president.

Chancellor: David Jones, Q.C., diocese of Edmonton.

The chancellor is the chair’s adviser on canon law, and is nominated by the primate and appointed by CoGS.

Vice-Chancellor: Ann Bourke, diocese of Ottawa.

The vice-chancellor performs any function assigned by the chancellor in consultation with the primate.

Treasurer: Hanna Goschy

The treasurer is present during General Synod sessions, and subject to the Rules of Order and Procedure, is entitled to participate in discussions without the right to vote.

The synod also has sessional officers who are appointed by the prolocutor on nomination from the general secretary. They include assessors or legal experts who help the chair interpret the canons and understand the rules of procedure.


How does General Synod create and change its canons?

The General Synod is a legislative body, which means it has the power to draft, change and enact laws through a process of voting. Its current body of laws are summed up in the 23 Canons of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.

These laws cover everything from the name of the church to the role and powers of the primate to the licensing of clergy and marriage, and can be changed (and have been on many occasions) by the General Synod.

The process of creating or amending a canon begins ahead of the meeting and involves several steps, including the following:

1. For a canon to be changed, a resolution must be submitted to the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. The Council of General Synod, a committee of General Synod, a diocese or an individual delegate can initiate a motion. The general secretary must receive it in time to be included in the Convening Circular, a collection of documents sent out to delegates 30 days before synod begins. The Convening Circular includes reports from various committees and bodies, as well as resolutions being brought before synod.

2. When a resolution comes before synod, it must be moved and seconded before debate can begin. The mover is given five minutes to introduce the motion, after which each member has a chance to speak on the matter for up to three minutes.

3. Resolutions that come before the synod must be dealt with, but this does not necessarily mean they must be voted on. Several options are available, including:

a) amending the resolution

b) postponing the resolution to a specific time in the future

c) postponing the resolution indefinitely

d) referring the resolution for further study

e) laying the resolution on the table [ending discussion without arriving at a decision]

f) voting on the resolution clause by clause

4. When it comes to the vote itself, how it is counted depends on what is being decided: Some matters of business only require a simple majority, while a vote to approve or change a canon requires a two-thirds majority in each order (lay, clergy and bishops). If the canon deals with doctrine, worship or discipline, it must be voted on in two consecutive synods before the change can take affect.

However, even in the case of simple majority votes, if six members ask for a vote by orders, the synod must vote by orders.

5. If a motion is defeated, another motion dealing with the same issue can only be brought to the floor of synod if two-thirds of the members vote to allow it. If the motion has to do with a canon, however, it must wait for the next General Synod.


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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