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State of a dress

Vicars could be free to conduct services in whatever dress they like under new proposals by the Church of England.

The House of Bishops is investigating the possibility of relaxing canon law, which currently requires priests to wear traditional clerical robes when leading communion or services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals.

The current rules say that priests must wear an alb but this practice is widely ignored, particularly during informal services involving more modern styles of worship.

A consultation paper sent out to members of the General Synod suggests allowing priests more flexibility, with the agreement of leading parishioners.

In the case of weddings, baptisms or funerals, they would also be free to wear other clothes if the couple or family involved requested it (so long as any alternative dress is 'seemly' and not involve 'any departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.'

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, saidthere were two main arguments. 'If that canonical compulsion were to be relaxed some people say then the church would be more relevant to the modern society and they believe that passionately,' he said.

'Others say that if that were to happen the church wold lose some of its distinctiveness.

'The conversation between those points of view is the conversation we will be having.'

Some argue that dress is not a matter of convenience but expectation. Rev Peter Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden said: 'I wear [the mitre] when I'm in a place which dresses up and wants a bishop looking, as they would see it, properly like a bishop.'

He added: 'If you're in a place which is very multi-cultural and people come from particularly Africa and Asia and the Christians with that background, because we'd exported all the regalia to them, that's their culture they've grown up with and they would be very surprised not to see a bishop dressed up to the nines and wearing a mitre.'

The consultation, which runs until mid-April, is open to members of the General Synod. Changes would then have to be approved by the Synod and the House of Bishops.