The interior of Lund Cathedral in Sweden WikiCommons

The Church of Sweden is to start using less male-orientated words like "Lord" and "He" when referring to God in a bid to inject more gender neutral language during services.

The move is one of several taken by the national Evangelical Lutheran church as they update a 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted in terms of language, liturgy and hymns.

The decision, passed last month by the church's members, takes effect on 20 May, the Christian holiday of the Pentecost.

The updated handbook will give clergy new options on what to name God during services should they desire.

This includes swapping the phrase "in the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit" used at the start of a service for "in the name of God and the Holy Trinity".

The Church said while traditional Christian expressions remained in the handbook, "gender neutral ways of referring to God" had been added to some prayers.

Lena Sjostrand, chaplain of Lund Cathedral, said the changes were reflecting society's heightened awareness about gender neutrality.

She told PBS NewsHour on Tuesday (26 December): "We have a consciousness about gender questions, which is stronger in our time than it has been before.

"Of course, this has had an impact on theology and on church life and pastoral reflection."

She added: "I don't think that God is a big mother or a father sitting up in the sky. I don't think that makes sense.

"God is something much bigger than this."

A former state church, headquartered in Uppsala, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of the capital, the Church of Sweden has 6.1 million baptised members in a country of 10 million. It is headed by the female Archbishop Antje Jackelen.

Jackelen told Sweden's TT news agency that a more inclusive language had already been discussed at the Church's 1986 conference.

"Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human," Jackelen said.

The changes have not been universally welcomed, however.

Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor with Sweden's Lund University, said the move was "undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches."

"It really isn't smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage," he said.

The Church hit back at some "fake news" reports in the media suggesting masculine words referring to God would be removed from the handbook altogether and banned.

It said much of the language used will continue to be mainly male gendered.

It also pointed out that it wasn't adding that the word "hen", which is now the official gender-neutral pronoun in the Swedish language, to the new handbook.