‘I do not wish to speak for long’: The Transcripts of the Church Assembly and General Synod, 1920-1972

Church Assembly Session, 6 November 1962 [CIO/PHO/NEG/188, 62117/1]

Lambeth Palace Library has recently catalogued the transcripts of the reports of proceedings from the Church Assembly, and the early sessions of the General Synod. From the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England sought to achieve greater self-governance as its legislation was dependent on Parliament. The historic Convocations of Canterbury and York (made up of clergy) both added a House of Laymen by 1892, and together formed the Representative Church Council. This body, with bishops, clergy and laity all represented, became the Church Assembly in 1919 with the ‘Enabling Act’ empowering it to become the Church’s legislative body. The transcripts cover sessions between 1920 and 1972, covering the entire lifespan of the Church Assembly, and the formation of its successor body, the General Synod, in 1970.

The transcripts are a fantastic resource that add colour to the published reports of proceedings, which tend to omit much of the actual speech. The reports of proceedings are a summary of speeches made, edited from present to past tense and often shortened. On occasion, whole passages found in the transcripts are missing from the reports. Presumably, the editor viewed these as superfluous to the argument being made. By just looking at the reports of proceedings, researchers miss most of the anecdotes and all the humour deployed by speakers, leaving a skeleton speech deprived of the original intonation.

A lively debate led by the Bishop of Ely about ‘Danger on the Highways’, February 1935 [CAGST/2/32]

The transcripts also give an indication as to how speeches were received by the Assembly and later the Synod. Incidences of laughter, cries of dissent and murmurs of discontent are noted, giving the reader an insight into the atmosphere of these meetings.

The period of 1920-1972 covers many tumultuous domestic and global events, and this is reflected in the topics discussed by the Assembly and Synod. Domestically, the transcripts show lengthy discussions on divorce, unemployment and racial discrimination. The passing of monarchs and the accession of new Kings and Queens are marked.

‘Death of King George V, and Address to King Edward VIII’, February 1936 [CAGST/2/35]

The rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the twentieth century can be seen through the transcripts, moving from a debate on the ‘League of Nations’ in 1924 to the threat of ‘Nuclear War’ in 1963. Slightly more unusual subjects discussed include ‘Danger on the Public Highways’ and ‘Influence of the Cinema’.

‘Nuclear War’, November 1963 [CAGST/2/108]

The transcripts supplement many of the other collections at Lambeth Palace Library, including the photographic collections of the Church Information Office. The photographic collections provide a comprehensive library of photographs illustrating the teachings and activities of the Church. Church Assembly sessions in the 1950s and 1960s were photographed, as well as the inauguration of the first General Synod.

Church Assembly discussing ‘Horror Comics’, November 1954 [CIO/5/PHO/1/1a]
Debate on ‘Sordid Reading Matter’, November 1954 [CAGST/2/81]

The Church Assembly and General Synod transcripts are a wonderful resource for readers wishing to gain a full and comprehensive understanding of the discussions had by Church Assembly and General Synod, and how this shaped Church policy and thought throughout the twentieth century.

Inauguration of first General Synod by the late Queen Elizabeth II, 4 November 1970 [CIO/5/PHO/2/4]