Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The Church of England has decided to lift a 400 year-old requirement for all churches to hold Sunday services.
At a meeting in London this week, the church's general synod formally approved the change in canon law that dates back to 1603. Thursday, it relaxed the rule that each Anglican parish must offer Sunday morning and evening prayer services.
The synod voted overwhelmingly for the change, which will most affect small, rural churches with declining memberships.
Priests in many rural areas address the needs of parishioners in as many as 20 churches in an area referred to as a benefice. In 2011, 71 percent of Anglican churches in Britain were in multi-church groups -- up from 12 percent in 1960.
Instead of Sunday services "in every church," the new rule calls for services "in at least one church in each benefice."
"Sunday worship continues to be central to the Church of England's ministry. The recent adaptation is designed to make it easier for multi-church parishes who rotate services between a group of churches," a Church of England spokesman said after the vote. "This reflects the movement over the past 200 years of people from the country to cities. The Church of England now has a great variety of services throughout the week."
The synod also issued six "pastoral principles" meant to encourage a more welcoming attitude toward LGBT faithful. While the church continues to hold that marriage is exclusively reserved for one man and one woman, the principles brought to the synod by the church's Pastoral Advisory Group urges people to display honesty regarding their prejudices, "cast out" fear and offer kindness and courtesy in the treatment of LGBT matters.