Church ends war of words by avoiding 'man'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Church of England yesterday signalled an end to 25 years of liturgical warfare over traditional, modern, and inclusive language with a decision to mix old and new texts in its next prayer book. It will not change traditional forms of address for God, but will quietly introduce new prayers which avoid terms such as 'man' and 'mankind', which some people feel exclude women.

Even the Archdeacon of York, the Ven George Austin, who claimed people were being driven away from the Church of England by the concept of a feminine God, said he had no objection to inclusive language about people, rather than about God. But he urged that new prayers be written to chime with modern susceptibilities, rather than modifying old ones gracelessly.

The chairman of the Church's Liturgical Commission, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev David Stancliffe, made it clear that the Synod would not bring in texts referring to God as 'mother'.

'Tradition cannot be forgotten or set aside,' he told the General Synod meeting in York. 'For centuries God has been addressed in terms borrowed from our human understanding of fatherhood and monarchy and these references remain part of our tradition.

'Merciful Father may be a better form of address in some circumstances than Almighty and all-powerful God,' Bishop Stancliffe continued, though he conceded that in some circumstances references to 'He' or 'Him' could be replaced by 'God'.

But Archdeacon Austin warned that in the United States this had led to a meaningless repetition of the word God because liturgists were afraid to use 'He'.

The Rev Bernice Broggio from Southwark, argued for language fit for its purpose. This need not be feminist. A prison chaplain, she said, had told her that when he read from the Bible without careful preparation his charges heard not John the Baptist, an epithet they found unfamiliar, but John the bastard.

'My concerns are particularly with those who come new to our churches. Modern English speech, modern English language, is becoming inclusive, and a church that preaches an inclusive gospel should not be lagging behind,' she said.

But her motion urging the Church to encourage rather than merely to monitor the use of inclusive language was clearly defeated by the Synod.

Underlying the debate was a sense that a common liturgy was important to the Church but could not be imposed from above.

Attempts to mandate the use of a particular form of the Lord's Prayer, and of a particular Bible, both failed, on the grounds that too many versions had been in use for too long for any single settlement to be accepted.

Comments