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Gender-neutral terms for God are up for discussion, the Church of England says

A general view of the room during the opening of the General Synod at The Church House in London on Feb. 6.
Leon Neal
Getty Images
A general view of the room during the opening of the General Synod at The Church House in London on Feb. 6.

The Church of England is considering how to refer to God without assigning a gender, its governing body says. But the church's General Synod adds that while it's been exploring the idea of adopting new language in recent years, no changes are looming.

"This is nothing new," a spokesperson for the Church of England said in a note to NPR. "Christians have recognized since ancient times that God is neither male nor female."

Acknowledging that the terms for God in scripture aren't always reflected in the ways people worship, the representative added, "There has been greater interest in exploring new language for years now, with the Church's Liturgical Commission regularly considering such questions since 2014."

A question about adopting "more inclusive language"

The question arose at this week's meeting of the church's General Synod, where the Rev. Joanna Stobart, the vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in South Somerset, posed a question to leadership asking where things stand in the move to adopt "more inclusive language," as The Guardian reported.

In reply, Bishop Michael Ipgrave, vice chairman of the church's liturgical commission, said the question was already being studied, adding that the church plans to launch a new project in the coming months to consider how gendered language should be used in reference to God.

But, Ipgrave added, any changes to wording and other elements would have to go through the synod's approval process before it would become official.

"There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorized liturgies and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation," the church spokesperson said.

The work of considering the language used in religious services and rites will fall to a joint undertaking between the Church of England's liturgical commission, which sets the forms of service, and its faith and order commission, which advises on theology.

Emily Olson contributed reporting to this story.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.