This morning I received a phone call from a young woman for whom I will be officiating at her wedding later this summer. The other day I had sent her an order of service for their wedding program. Her phone call was concerning a question she had about the wording of one particular part of the service. The word that was tripping her up was "charge" as in a "Charge to the Couple." As a probationary office, the word "charge" certainly held a different connotation for her than it did for me.
In the world of the Church, a "charge" is usually a challenge that is given to those entering into a covenant, reminding them of their duties and responsibilities of the vows or covenant promises they are making. For example, in an installation service of a pastor, often there is both a "Charge" to the pastor, as well as a "Charge" to the local church.
However, in her world, a "charge" is usually an accusation or a description of an offense of the law. She and I laughed about what a "Charge of the Couple" in her world might be. What might this bride and groom be "charged" with under the law and what might the consequences of that "charge" be. We talked given the context of her world and many of her guests, deciding that other wording for this part of the ceremony would be wise.
After I got off the phone, I thought about the insider language we use in the Church. I often call it "churchese." The interesting thing is "churchese" can vary from denomination to denomination and even from local church to local church. We use buzz words, terms that are not always accessible to all.
Yet, words matter, and, too many times, we use a word that people are not familiar with or that has a different connotation to them. Sometimes, our "churchese" words or phrases can create barriers because they create an "insider and outsider" feeling when certain words or phrases are only familiar to those in that particular church setting.
I have often thought about the Pentecost event that is described in the second chapter of Acts as a reminder that we are called to continue to strive to share the Gospel in a way that ideally all people are able to "hear" in their "own native language." This takes work. It takes awareness and conversation. It takes education and a willingness to understand the different settings, circumstances, experiences, and contexts from which people are coming.
I am grateful that this bride had the courage to say to me, "I don't understand what that phrase means" and "that word means something different to me." It was an enlightening and meaningful conversation. It reminded me of how much "churchese" I speak and how often it can be lost in translation. I pray that all of us would become more aware of the barriers our language can create. May we be committed to the continual work of the spirit, to strive to speak and share the Gospel in ways that all people can "hear" in their own "native" languages.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister