Church of England looking into using gender-neutral pronouns for God

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, faces the altar during a service at Westminster Abbey in London.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, faces the altar during a service at Westminster Abbey in London. Photo credit: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The Church of England will look into the use of gender-neutral terms to refer to God in prayers, but the centuries-old institution said on Wednesday there were no plans to abolish current services.

The issue reflects growing global awareness about the assumed usage of pronouns causing offence or upset to those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

"Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female," a spokesperson for the Church said. "Yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship."

But he added that there were "absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise" authorised services and that no changes could be made without "extensive legislation".

The comments follow an exchange in the General Synod, the Church's governing body, where a priest asked about developing more inclusive language in authorised forms of worship and sought options for those who wish to speak of God in a "non-gendered way".

The spokesperson said there had been greater interest in exploring new language since the introduction of its forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago.

Bishop Michael Ipgrave, vice chairman of the Church's liturgical commission, said the Church had been "exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years".

The deliberation is the latest attempt by the Church, central to one of the world's oldest Christian institutions, to keep up with rapidly evolving notions around gender and sexuality in recent decades.

The religious body last month set out proposals showing it would refuse to allow same-sex couples to get married in its churches, but said priests could bless them in church. It also apologised to LGBTQI+ people for the rejection and hostility they have faced.

The Church's Faith and Order Commission – which advises on theology – will work with the liturgical commission on looking at questions around gender terms, the spokesperson said.