The Church of England is considering whether to use gender-neutral terms to refer to God, a spokesperson said on Thursday, adding that there are no plans to “to abolish or substantially revise” the existing liturgy.
The church said in an emailed statement that Christians have recognized “since ancient times that God is neither male nor female.” The clergy is now weighing whether it could better reflect that in the language used in its services.
“The variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship,” the statement said. “There has been greater interest in exploring new language since the introduction of our current forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago.”
The Anglican Church said its Liturgical commission, which prepares and advises on the church service, had been “regularly” considering this language since 2014. That commission has now asked another body, the Faith and Order Commission, which advises on theology, to examine the issue.
The church did not provide specifics on how the commission would work and did not provide a timeline for its findings.
“There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorized liturgies, and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation,” the church said.
In Christian denominations, God is often rendered with masculine pronouns in religious texts and prayers, though many theological scholars and leaders argue that God transcends gender. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “He is neither man nor woman: he is God.”
In 2018, the Church of England’s archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said that God was neither male nor female. The archbishop is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which exists in the United States as the Episcopal Church, with 85 million members in 165 countries.
The question of God’s gender received renewed attention this week at a meeting of the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, in London.
At the meeting, the Rev. Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset, asked for an update on establishing “more inclusive language” in service, P.A. Media reported.
A vice-chair of the Liturgical commission, the Rev. Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, responded that “a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” according to the Press Association.
The Synod met as the Church of England faces decades of falling attendance.
In 2019, before in-person church services were suspended at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there were 1.1 million “regular worshipers,” who went to church once a month or more, according to the Church of England.