The Church of England says it is considering alternative ways of referring to God after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead.
The Church said it would be launching a new project in the spring about whether the pronoun ‘he’ can be changed or not.
Any potential alterations, which would mark a departure from traditional Jewish and Christian teachings dating back millennia, would have to be approved by the synod, the Church’s decision-making body.
The Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the liturgical commission responsible for the matter, said the Church had been ‘exploring the use of gendered language about God for several years,’ the PA news agency reports.
“After some dialogue between the two Commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” he said.
“In common with other potential changes to authorised liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorised forms of absolution would require a full Synodical process for approval.”
The specifics of the project are as yet unclear. The bishop’s comments came in response to a question asked at the synod by the Rev Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset, about the progress on developing a ‘more inclusive language’ in services.
It is currently unclear what would replace the term Our Father in the Lord’s Prayer, the central Christian prayer which Jesus Christ is said to have instructed his followers to say together down the generations.
Conservative critics have hit back at the possibility of changes, with the Rev Dr Ian Paul telling the Telegraph that they would represent an abandonment of the Church’s doctrine.
He said: “The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.
“If the liturgical commission seeks to change this, then in an important way they will be moving the doctrine of the Church away from being grounded in the scriptures.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “This is nothing new. Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, 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 languages since the introduction of our current forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago.
“As part of its regular programme of work for the next five years, the Liturgical Commission has asked the Faith and Order Commission to work with it on looking at these questions.