By Simon Caldwell
LIVERPOOL, England (OSV News) — The Church of England is planning to debate the introduction of liturgy that refers to persons of the Holy Trinity “in a non-gendered way” instead of using male pronouns.
The move was confirmed in the answer to a question submitted ahead of the General Synod 2023, which took place Feb. 6-9 in London.
The Rev. Joanna Stobart, an Anglican vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in southwestern England, asked the Liturgical Commission to provide “an update on the steps being taken to develop more inclusive language in our authorized liturgy and to provide more options for those who wish to use authorized liturgy and speak of God in a non-gendered way, particularly in authorized absolutions where many of the prayers offered for use refer to God using male pronouns.”
In reply, Anglican Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield, vice chair of the commission, said: “We have been exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years, in collaboration with the Faith and Order Commission.”
“After some dialogue between the two commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” he added, however “in common with other potential changes to authorized liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorized forms of absolution would require a full synodical process for approval.”
The Church of England signaled however that the exercise might not result in the replacement of non-gendered pronouns or alternative references to the persons of the Trinity as substitutes for Father and Son.
“This is nothing new,” the Church of England said in a Feb. 8 statement sent by email to OSV News.
“Christians have recognized since ancient times that God is neither male nor female,” the statement said. “Yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in Scripture has not always been reflected in our worship. 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 Liturgical Commission — the body which prepares forms of service for the Church of England — has been regularly considering these questions since 2014,” the statement continued.
“As part of its regular program of work for the next five years, the commission has asked another Church of England body, the Faith and Order Commission — which advises on theology — to work with it on looking at these questions.”
“There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorized liturgies and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation.”
According to The Associated Press, the commission is scheduled to look into the issue in the spring, in consultation with a second committee.
Neither supporters nor opponents of the cause said the church would or should ban masculine terms such as “Our Father,” AP reported.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God is neither man nor woman, but in sacred Scripture, Jesus speaks of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Scriptural scholars have interpreted Jesus’ words as divine revelation to describe the nature of God and the relationships of the persons of the Trinity.
Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, gave an interview in 2018 about what “God the Father” meant to him personally.
He said: “It means that here is one that is perfect, that loves me unconditionally, that reaches out to me and knows me better than I know myself and yet still loves me profoundly. That loves me enough to make redemption and blessing possible and open. That offers me a way through life that can be very complicated and painful, and can be overwhelming and wonderful, but is always father … is always the one who, in love, embraces, draws, heals, blesses and will eventually call me to be present to God.”
In his general audience of Jan. 30, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI also spoke extensively about fatherhood and the person of God the Father.
The late pope described him as “a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves with a faithfulness that surpasses by far that of men and women, opening onto dimensions of eternity.”