Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Verbage

I'm at a continuing education conference that is turning out to be really excellent. One of the things that happens when you get a bunch of people in the same profession together is that they will get on each other's nerves. In clergy circles (of the same denomination), there can be little tweaks in verbage or theology that can cause eye-rolling and snarky comments like you wouldn't believe.

(What? You thought we were all sitting around singing Kum-Ba- Yah?)

In reality, there is always truth to what is pointed out to you, it is just that it can be hard to hear it.

Two phrases that have been pointed out by people I know well (and like) are:

1) "We worship # on Sunday." A phrase that I never use in my daily life comes up immediately with other clergy because one is quickly asked, "How many do you worship on Sunday"- meaning "How many people attend worship on Sunday?" The great pastor from Sitka Lutheran in Sitka, Alaska says, "We worship God with about this many people."

It's such an awesome point to make. Too often pastors and lay leaders are put in the position of being made to worship (or bow down to) statistics like attendance, activities and output. I don't worship 50 people on Sunday. I worship God with about 50 others and we have a pretty good time.


2) The other phrase is a sneaky pronoun. "My congregation" "My building" "My people" It's easy to become proprietary about one's call, location and congregation. I very consciously refer to the church's administrative assistant as just that- working for the congregation (with me), not for me. Occasionally, I know I've said "my building", not because I have any designs on it, but it simply happened. I think (!) I most frequently say "our/ours". Nevertheless, I do hear people talking about "my people".

I think this is problematic in that we forget that we all belong to God, first and foremost. This language use first came to my attention in October through the pastor at Shishmaref Lutheran in Shishmaref, Alaska. For whom are we working? With whom are we working? The words we use matter.

Words have power.

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