Faithful pray to God the Mother

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The Independent Online
FOR CENTURIES Christians have prayed to God the Father, but now a new Methodist worship book has moved with the times - and decided to call God Mother.

The controversial prayer, which addresses God "our Father and our Mother", makes the Methodists the first mainstream Christian denomination in this country to depart from the traditional language used to describe God in its liturgy.

The Methodists claim there is nothing radical in calling God Mother, referring to descriptions by the 14th-century English writer, Julian of Norwich, and Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 66, which says: "as one whom his mother comforteth, so I shall comfort you".

At yesterday's launch of the Methodists' first collection of liturgy for nearly 25 years, the Rev Neil Dixon stressed that God was neither male nor female.

"God is not a person. God is spirit and without gender. The fact that we've used male imagery so extensively has in a sense reinforced the picture of God as a man, and the fact that Jesus is male has done that as well but, if all human beings are created in God's image, feminine as well as masculine attributes must reflect God's nature," he said.

The Rev Norman Wallwork, another member of the committee that has been working on the liturgy for the past eight years, said: "Usage always informs the church eventually. The fact that inclusive language and inclusive imagery is around in the secular world is inevitably something the churches are going to capture. While the world isn't going to write the agenda, the church isn't going to resist rediscovering something that was already in its bloodstream."

The idea of introducing God as Mother into the liturgy was first floated in 1992. The idea was dropped after gaining little support. Last year the Methodist Conference, the governing body of the country's one million Methodists, decided to reinstate the phrase.

The Methodists have also introduced a clause that allows a woman to be "presented for marriage" as opposed to "given away". The man may also be "presented for marriage" by a friend or relative.

"It was thought it was time to move away from the bride being given away by her father as if she was a medieval thing who belonged to her father's family," said Mr Wallwork. "Therefore the bride and the groom are both `presented' in a totally equal way."

The Methodists' marriage service has been subject to further changes. The 1975 version said: "According to the teaching of Christ, marriage is the life-long union in body, mind and spirit, of one man and one woman."

In the 1999 version, the wording is: "It is the will of God that, in marriage, husband and wife should experience a life-long unity of heart, body and mind." The word "should" may be interpreted as reflecting the lenient approach adopted by Methodists towards marrying those whose former marriages have failed.

n The Church of England has taken a leaf out of business text- books in an effort to attract more "customers". Jayne Ozonne, a market researcher, will carry out focus groups in 20 dioceses to establish what the church's "customers" want.

The Methodist Prayer

God our Father and our Mother,

we give you thanks and praise

for all that you have made,

for the stars in their splendour

and the world in its wonder

and for the glorious gift of human life.

With the saints and angels in heaven

we praise your holy name.