According to various reports support is growing within the Church of England to rewrite its official liturgy to refer to God as female following the selection of the first women bishops.
Growing numbers of “priests” already insert words such as “she” and “mother” informally into traditional service texts as part of a move to make the language of worship more inclusive, it has been claimed.
But calls for a full overhaul of liturgy to recognise the equal status of women have already been discussed informally at a senior level.
It comes after the “Transformations Steering Group”, a body which meets in Lambeth Palace to examine the impact of women in ministry on the Church of England, issued a public call to the bishops to encourage more “expansive language and imagery about God”.
Hilary Cotton, chair of Women And The Church (Watch), the group which led the campaign for female bishops, said the shift away from the traditional patriarchal language of the Book of Common Prayer in already at an “advanced” stage in some quarters.
“The reality is that in many churches up and down the country something more than the almost default male language about God is already being used,” she said.
“Quietly clergy are just talking about God as ‘she’ every now and then.
“The response you often get at one end is ‘why does it matter because God is beyond all this?’
“At the other end the reaction is ‘you mustn’t because Jesus calls God father.”
Mrs Cotton said that while congregations were already experimenting with new terminology, it was time for the issue to be considered by the Liturgical Commission, the body which drafts official service books, as well as those drawing behind a planned new catechism.
“Until we shift considerably towards a more gender-full expression in our worship about God then we are failing God and we are missing something,” she said.
“We are [also] going to miss some of the opportunities that otherwise particularly women might feel themselves called to.”
Her comments came following a discussion at the Westminster Faith Debates on whether the consecration of women as bishops would “change” the Church of England.
The Church of England’s worship already includes some references to God as female, many of them centuries old.
Canticle 82, the song of Anselm, the 11th and 12th Century Archbishop of Canterbury, likens Jesus to a mother, while number 86, attributed to Julian of Norwich, speaks of God as “our mother in all things”.
“That gives an indication that the Church of England hasn’t set its face against this in any way and there is recognition from the Church of England that men and women are made in the image of God and therefore it is entirely appropriate to express our worship toward God as a female presence,” said Mrs Cotton.
“There is a thin thread of this throughout history but having women bishops makes it particularly obvious that … to continue to refer to God purely as male is just unhelpful to many people now.”
A spokesman for Lambeth Palace emphasised that the steering group is independent of the Archbishop of Canterbury and that any change in liturgy would have to be approved by the General Synod.
COMMENT: Anyone surprised? After all is said and done the C of E is PROTESTANT, always seeking something to protest about. Maybe Catholic bishops should stop lending a cloak of respectability to C of E and stop attending protestant C of E services and confine themselves to sharing and encouraging those things we have in common.