The Church of England has said it is "bewildered" by the refusal of the country's leading cinemas to show a 60 second advert of The Lord's Prayer, adding that the "plain silly" decision could have a "chilling effect" on free speech.
The Church's response follows its launch of a new website to promote the renewal of prayer in a digital age.
The website JustPray.uk creates a place for prayer with advice on what prayer is and how to pray. The site also provides a "live prayer" feed of prayers being prayed across the globe via Twitter, Instagram and Vine.
The Church has produced an advert promoting the new website to be shown in cinemas from December 18 2015 as part of the ad reel before Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The 60 second advert features Christians from all walks of life praying one line of the Lord's prayer and includes weight lifters, a police officer, a commuter, refugees in a support centre, school children, a mourner at a graveside, a festival goer and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Church has announced today that the country's three largest cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld and Vue – who control 80 per cent of cinema screens around the country – have refused to show the advert because they believe it "carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences".
Despite the film receiving clearance from both the Cinema Advertising Authority and British Board of Film Classification, the cinemas are still refusing to show the advert.
The Revd Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Church of England, said:
"The prospect of a multi-generational cultural event offered by the release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" on 18 December – a week before Christmas Day – was too good an opportunity to miss and we are bewildered by the decision of the cinemas.
"The Lord's Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day and in this country has been part of everyday life for centuries. Prayer permeates every aspect of our culture from pop songs and requiems to daily assemblies and national commemorations. For millions of people in the United Kingdom, prayer is a constant part of their lives whether as part thanksgiving and praise, or as a companion through their darkest hours.
"In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech. There is still time for the cinemas to change their mind and we would certainly welcome that.
"In the meantime people should visit the site, see the film themselves and make up their own minds as to whether they are upset or offended by it."