GOD will be described as a mother in a prayer overwhelming approved by
the Church of England General Synod yesterday, as bishops vehemently
denied that they were victims of modern feminist fashions.
Supporters of the prayer claimed that God had been described in feminine language from the times of the Old Testament Prophets, in the time of Jesus in the New Testament, and during the Middle Ages.
The prayer will be included in a new book, Common Worship, which will be the first collection of Anglican literature to be put on the Internet and sold as software disks.
Instead of prayer books, worshippers of the future will be able to download the text onto laptops and palm-held computers, and scroll their way through the service.
The inclusion of a prayer comparing God to a mother was a victory for the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend Richard Harries, who had a similar proposal rejected by the synod in 1996.
The words are included in one of eight new prayers for the Eucharist that are said at the most sacred part of the Church service. The prayer reads: "As a mother tenderly gathers her children, you embraced a people as your own."
Bishop Harries told the synod: "Is it not vital to have, in at least one Eucharistic prayer today, some image of motherhood, of feminine imagery? Personally, I would like to see a lot more, given the importance of this to some people today."
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson, said: "This allusion to motherhood in the Godhead is not a creation of strident late 20th-century feminism."
He pointed to Isaiah 49:15: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?" In the New Testament, at Matthew 23:37, Jesus compared Himself to a mother: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings."
The medieval female hermit and mystic, Julian of Norwich, had used feminine imagery to describe God, Bishop Stevenson added.
Sir Patrick Cormack, MP, representing the Lichfield diocese, condemned the new Eucharistic prayers on the grounds that eight was too many, and he pleaded for churchgoers to have a common bond of literature to unite them, instead of not knowing what they would be confronted with when they went to church. "The great thing about Cranmer's Prayer Book is that it created phrases and concepts which resonated in our people for centuries," Sir Patrick said.
A call to include in Common Worship the 39 Articles - the founding principles that distinguish the Anglican faith from Catholicism and date from Elizabeth I's reign in 1571 - was defeated despite support from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. The Articles are in the Book of Common Prayer.
Electronic worship seemed a long way off for Peter Smith, representing the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese. He pleaded for the new prayer books to be made of glues, bindings and paper that would not warp in the damp churches where they would be kept.