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London – The Church of England has acknowledged the reality of shrinking congregations and overworked priests and lifted a 400-year-old rule requiring that all churches hold services every Sunday.

Canon law dating from 1603 required priests to hold morning and evening prayers and a communion service each Sunday in every church they oversaw.

But after decades of declining attendance, many priests are now responsible for multiple churches, especially in rural areas. Until now, they have needed permission from a bishop not to hold Sunday services in each church.

The change was approved Thursday at a meeting of the church’s governing Synod.

Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent, who proposed the change, said it “just changes the rules to make it easier for people to do what they’re already doing. It stops the bureaucracy.”

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