LONDON -- Anglicans, now accounting for just 3 percent of England's population, have elected a new 500-member General Synod to run the state-affiliated Church of England for the next five years.
A slightly younger and less male-dominated group than its predecessor, the new synod was chosen by 3,000 lay church members from the 44 dioceses eligible to vote in the complicated, summer-long electoral process.
One in five synod members is under 40. For the first time the House of Clergy will admit women members, while the House of Laity will be 50 percent female.
Queen Elizabeth II will inaugurate the synod Nov. 13 in a royal ceremony. As the synod prepares for its first legislative session, a mood of gloom about the church's future is apparent among some, but others predict a new and exciting era of progress.
The new three-chamber synod will deliberate in the recently refurbished Assembly Hall of Church House in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament. And it is Parliament that will have the final say in all measures approved by synod.
Until the synod, and later Parliament, legislate the issue, women cannot lawfully be ordained as priests. However, 25 women deacons are now full voting members of the House of Clergy.
One of those women, the Rev. Susan Cole-King, though allowed to function only as a deacon in the Anglican Church, was ordained a priest in the U.S. Episcopal Church.
Although women's ordination was the main campaign issue, and it is assumed, according to experienced observers, that a majority in all three houses now support women's ordination, the subject has not been placed on the agenda of this month's three-day meeting.
But it will doubtless surface in debates on measures that would enable deacons to become cathedral canons and to solemnize marriages. A measure to allow women deacons to function as team ministers was defeated in the last synod.
Those who support women's ordination see the new synod as a sign of hope since most church observers predict that the ordination of women will be approved during this synod's term of office.
Among those who see the move toward women priests as disastrous is the Rev. Geoffrey Kirk. Kirk heads the so-called Cost of Conscience movement of Anglican priests who have threatened to resign their ministries if women are ordained.
Another open question is whether the archbishop-elect of Canterbury, George Carey, who supports the ordination of women, will be more successful than the retiring Archbishop Robert Runcie in persuading General Synod to follow his lead in shaping the Church of England.