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Archbishops urge greater flexibility

Setback on collective worship for traditionalists. The heads of the Anglican Church, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, have called for greater flexibility in collective worship - the most serious assault yet on the ideal of Biblical assemblies promoted by Christian traditionalists and Government backbenchers.

The Archbishop of York, John Habgood, told journalists at the North of England Conference that daily acts of Christian worship are unworkable while the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that worship should be "culturally relevant for young people".

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace this week confirmed that the Archbishops were fully behind a more generous interpretation of worship. This is also the line pursued by the chairman of the Anglican Board of Education, David Young, the Bishop of Ripon.

"We're not pushing for a change in the basic requirement that there should be a daily spiritual act," said the Archbishop's spokesman. "But we can't expect schools to have a daily act of full-blooded traditional worship. It may be better to do that from time to time instead.

"The point is that the law can be made to work a lot better, a lot more imaginitively and a lot more positively than it is at the moment."

Earlier this year, the Bishop of Ripon suggested, in a personal capacity, that ideas of silence and reflection should be explored alongside more narrowly traditional rituals. The full range of pupils could then be involved.

The Board of Education is in the middle of a consultation exercise to determine a formal position. A recommendation for a change in the law has not been ruled out, although it remains unlikely.

A powerful consensus has now emerged that the official interpretation of collective worship is unworkable. A survey of headteachers suggested that 80 per cent are unable to meet the law requiring daily acts which are "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature". In a private advice paper to ministers, Her Majesty's Inspectorate has attacked the Government's stance as illogical, unworkable and likely to turn some pupils away from religion.

The Government has chosen in its official circulars to define Christianity and worship in a narrow way - schools must for example make daily reference to the special status of Jesus Christ. And this is the point on which senior figures in the Anglican Church have chosen to argue.

Dr Habgood told journalists at the North of England Conference that "it would probably be an advantage to have less worship but of better quality".

He added :"The system is not working as it is. The Government should have another look at it in proper consultation with teachers."

Education Secretary Gillian Shephard immediately ruled out any suggestion of a change in the law. Dr Carey was also widely reported to have rebuffed his colleague by insisting at a London conference that "I should like to emphasise the value I continue to attach to a collective spiritual act at the start of each school day". This view is however much broader than that favoured by the Government as was his subsequent comment that the Church "should develop worship which is culturally relevant to young people".

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