Synod says Sunday services no longer compulsory

A Church of England synod has decided to put aside a centuries-old requirement for every church in every benefice to celebrate the weekly Sunday services.

The synod says the rules will be amended to say morning and evening prayer need only be held at “at least one church within a benefice, which might include multiple parish churches.

“Each service shall be said or sung distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice.”

The change, which will also apply to Holy Communion services, has been made to regularise what is already a standard practice in parishes with small and declining congregations in rural areas.

Most rural priests have multiple benefices, with some in charge of up to 20 churches. The old rules required them to maintain regular services even if only a handful of worshippers turned up.

Bishop Pete Broadbent, who is leading a task group simplifying and modernising the rules governing daily church life, says the move is intended to bring canon law in line with practice.

“At the moment if you have 12 parishes you need a special dispensation [from the bishop] not to hold morning and evening prayers in every church,” he said.

The change will make “honest people” of clergy, who were already flouting the technicality of the law.

“People can’t look after loads of parishes, but [canon] law doesn’t recognise that reality.”

The legislation allows schedules to be set within a local context alongside other forms of worship, a church the spokesperson noted, while pointing out:

“Morning and evening prayer continue to be the heartbeat of church life and, whether urban or rural, communities are prayed for on a daily basis.

“The Church of England now has a great variety of services throughout the week, with midweek services increasing in popularity.”

The legal change was unanimously supported by bishops and clergy. Among lay members of the synod, two people voted against it and one abstained. It will now be sent to the Queen for royal assent.



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