CofE drops centuries-old rule that every church should hold Sunday services

The Church of England's General Synod has formally dropped a requirement dating from the 17th century for weekly worship to be held in every parish church.

In future the rules will say that morning and evening prayer should be held at at least one church within a benefice, which might include multiple parish churches.

Country churches are often sparsely attended.National Churches Trust

It is designed to regularise what is already a standard practice as most priests, particularly in rural areas, are responsible for several parishes. Attendance at individual churches can be very low, as rural populations have declined.

The practice of moving from church to church within a benefice on consecutive days and weeks previously required special dispensation from a bishop.

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: 'Sunday worship continues to be central to the Church of England's ministry, but this change is designed to make life easier for multi-church benefices.

'Larger benefices are a reality, particularly in rural areas, and this legislation allows schedules to be set within a local context, alongside other forms of worship not covered by this legislation.

'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 Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, said the move would make 'honest people' of clergy who were technically in breach of the rules. 'People can't look after loads of parishes, but [canon] law doesn't recognise that reality,' he said.