Church of England finds some sympathy for the devil as it downplays Satan in bid to modernize

The Church of England is ditching cassocks – and even the Devil – as its drive to modernize gathers momentum.

Vicars will be allowed to conduct communion services in more casual clothing, including jeans, after the Church agreed this weekend to review existing rules on clerical vestments.

The General Synod has also backed an alternative baptism service which leaves out mention of the Devil, in an attempt to appeal to people who have no religious background.

The Rt Rev Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, said the change was needed because many people now viewed Satan as nothing more than a “cartoon-like character.”

But this has not pleased all of the faithful. Alison Ruoff, a senior member of the General Synod, said: “I want and beg you to bring back the Devil.”

The Synod, meeting in York, voted to begin the process of relaxing canon law to make traditional vestments optional for some formal services.

Supporters of the move who include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, hope that allowing more clergy to adopt casual clothing will attract more members and encourage the growth of new “alternative” congregations meeting in cafes, pubs and even at outdoor venues.

But opponents of the change warned that abandoning obligatory robes would simply leave damage the dignity of the Church and leave it looking “slovenly”.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, whose own approach to clerical dress included cutting up his dog collar on live television, cautioned against embarking on lengthy revision of rules, which he said were already flexible.

There is no rule specifically requiring clergy to wear dog collars but canon law does insist on robes while priests are administering the Eucharist or conducting morning and evening prayers at Sunday services.

Synod members voted overwhelmingly to revise the canon after hearing accounts of growing congregation in churches which adopt informal styles.

The Rev Christopher Hobbs, who tabled the motion, said that while he liked wearing robes they were not suitable for all settings.

“For Holy Communion there is no flexibility,” he said.

“It makes no difference whether it is cafe-style, in a pub, outside in a field, in a hotel lounge or lobby – surplice and alb is required, with scarf or stole.”

But there was an outburst of laughter and applause as a nattily dressed Rev Neil Patterson, a rector from Herefordshire, stood up to address the Synod wearing red trousers, a mustard-coloured jacket and striped shirt.

He told the gathering: “I chose to dress this evening as a demonstration of some of the risks of allowing clergy to indulge their personality too freely.”