Church jargon jettisoned for better communication

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Scott Claassen of thads describes himself as “a Monday through Saturday follower of Jesus who worships on Sunday.”

He believes it conveys a clearer understanding of what his faith means to him than “Episcopalian” or even “Christian”.

“The main point is, it inverts our sense of discipleship from saying being a disciple means I go to church on Sunday,” Claassen, 35, told ENS recently. “Instead it says being a disciple means I practice this Jesus way throughout all of my life and I happen to get together with a bunch of other people on Sunday who do that, too.”

Call it semantics, but Claassen isn’t alone. Increasingly, individuals, congregations and even dioceses across the Episcopal Church are shifting language subtly – and not so subtly – to clarify identity and meaning and to make cultural and contextual connections.

Churches and congregations are becoming known as “communities of faith” and “centers of mission” and the word diocese has been dropped in favor of “The Episcopal Church in” places like Minnesota and Connecticut.

None of which is meant as “a strategy to get people to come to church, it’s just who we are at the core,” according to the Rev. Jimmy Bartz. He founded thads eight years ago as an “experimental community, or in church-speak, a mission station” of the Diocese of Los Angeles, he said.

“We’re about spreading love and making a difference wherever we are because that’s what Jesus was about and we’re committed to doing it together,” Bartz said. “It’s like that old country song, ‘be real baby, be real.’”

Becoming tradition ‘translators’
Helping the uninitiated navigate insider church-speak, complex liturgies and specific Episcopalianisms often involves becoming “translators, of sorts,” according to Bartz and others.

“It comes from this great gift that’s been afforded by learning the language of the Episcopal Church and its liturgy and tradition and wanting the culture to understand those gifts but having some sense that it’s too great of an expectation for me to demand that the culture learn the language that I’ve learned,” Bartz said.

The Rev. Becky Zartman, when reaching out to the largely millennial population in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, talks “about networks, about groups of people in relationship with each other who love each other and who are trying to be faithful Christians together.

“That’s what I think of when I think of church. But some people think of it as a building or an institution or cathedral or something you only do on Sunday morning,” said Zartman, 29, assistant rector at St. Thomas, Dupont Circle, who blogs as the Vicar of H Street.

And when she blogs, “if I ever use a church word I define it or explain what it means. Better yet, I don’t use it. I might write an entire reflection on the Incarnation and never use the word. People either don’t know what it means or think they do and they don’t.”

And much of the time, “I’m starting in the negative,” she adds. “Because people have a negative connotation of the church or think that Christians are stupid. The problem is, church is such an umbrella term.

“In talking to millennials who have no positive experience with the institutional church, I’m still trying to figure out how do I explain this thing that we’re doing. I’m trying to be accessible, but to go deeper at the same time.”

St. Thomas’ vestry member Catherine Manhardt agreed.

“We have this really amazing church and liturgy and worship and common prayer and it’s central to who we are, once we get there,” she said. “But when you say I’m Episcopalian because the Eucharist is really important to me, that’s not going to resonate with people, and you want people to understand what you’re talking about.”

Rather than telling friends she serves on the vestry, “I say board of directors,” adds Manhardt, 25. Evangelism becomes “community engagement.

“For me, the most important part about church is the community … I don’t want to make who we are a barrier to the kind of people who could become part of our community.”

‘Communities of faith becoming centers of mission’
Through the New Visions Initiative (NVI) which partners thriving historically African American congregations with struggling ones, the Rev. Angela Ifill, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for black ministries, has witnessed language shifts re-energize congregations.

“Language plays a huge part in the way parishioners think of themselves,” Ifill said in a recent e-mail to ENS.

Her invitation to a New Visions group “to think of themselves as communities of faith becoming centers of mission, brought the question, ‘You mean we have to be doing something?’” she recalled. “It was a break-through in better understanding their purpose for being.”

Similarly, “praying communities” and “Episcopal presences” are the way Bishop David Rice describes “who we are, by talking about what we do … because the reality for me is that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is a praying community and within that are many praying communities,” he said.

“The primary intent is Luke 10, being sent out, hearing the stories of people, responding to needs, and building relationships, but not as a roundabout way of ensuring that we get people into church.”

Since his March 2014 election, “the typical question I ask everywhere is, ‘what does an Episcopal presence look like in this context? What do people say about the Episcopal Church where they are” including those who don’t attend church, he said.

Bishops Ian Douglas of Connecticut and Brian Prior of Minnesota each recognized a name change was in order when they realized the word “diocese” conveyed images of buildings and bishops rather than a sense of community, inclusion, and corporate identity.

A recent shift to “the Episcopal Church in Connecticut” actually reclaims tradition and common identity, Douglas said. “It was the original name of who we were when Samuel Seabury, the first bishop in the Episcopal Church, signed the Concordat with the three nonjuring bishops in the Episcopal Church of Scotland in 1784,” Douglas said.

The word “diocese” came along in the late 1830s and became associated with the bishop’s office and staff rather than “the united witness of the 168 parishes and worshiping communities participating in the mission of God together,” he said.

A move to a new, flexible shared workspace with an open floor plan accompanied the name change. It’s known as the Commons of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, echoing the New England metaphor of the village green as a center of activity. Initial feedback has been extremely positive, Douglas said.

Similarly, “the Episcopal Church in Minnesota” conveys the reality “that our faith communities come in all sizes and shapes and contexts” including churches, senior housing, schools, campus ministries and other agencies who worship corporately, according to Bishop Brian Prior.

Yet, “we’re really clear in our language and in the big picture that the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECIM) is a diocese of The Episcopal Church; there’s never been a question about that.”

Language shifts prompted structural changes, he said. “I joke that there is no bishop’s staff here,” Prior says. “The only staff I have is the one I carry in procession.”

The diocese consists of “mission areas”, invited “to get clear about their identity and context, about what God’s up to in their neighborhood and to find a sustainable model for living into God’s mission in their context.”

As a result, Prior said. “More Minnesota Episcopalians know about the world’s needs and how to bring their gifts to meet the world’s needs to engage God’s mission” on local and individual levels, rather than trying “to get everybody into church.”

He hopes to revise parochial reports to measure, in addition to budgets and average Sunday attendance (ASA), levels of community impact.

For example, “there’s a faith community here with an ASA of 19 who feeds a hundred people every Friday. They have a huge impact on their community. That’s vibrancy. That’s really engaging in God’s mission, and that’s of more interest to us.”

‘No one-size-fits-all’
Language shifts notwithstanding, no one-size-fits-all; Episcopal identity still encompasses a wide spectrum, from evangelicals to Anglo-Catholics, say Prior and others.

Personally, says Bartz, “it drives me crazy that I hear from Episcopalians all the time, that ‘I can go anywhere in the country and get the same thing in church,’” he said.

“I think that’s a devastating indictment about how shallow our church has become, that we really don’t expect anything from people other than the execution of a particular liturgy in a particular way on Sunday morning. I understand it, but it drives me crazy.”

But for Broderick Greer, 24, a former Missionary Baptist and current Virginia Theological Seminary student, the liturgy’s poetic language was a way into the church. “I had run out of words in my personal prayer life and the church was able to say words it had been saying for centuries that I just couldn’t find for myself.”

Consistently asking the questions of faith – as individuals, as churches, as dioceses – is a given, and the challenge of inaccessible language can be overcome by the church “educating its people and those outside it,” he said.

“We say the Nicene Creed every week but we know that it doesn’t mean the same thing to us as to the people who wrote it. And so that’s why there is value in saying the same words that people have always said but knowing that those words are not static. They are living and offer life and new meaning for us and part of the task of the church is constantly interpreting what these words mean.”

About 40 Twitter followers responded to his recent tweet ‘what first drew you to the Episcopal Church?’ which he compiled into a Storify. For many, liturgy and language were the attractions.

“I thought to myself … why are we not tapping into this gift we have and sharing it with the world?” Greer said. “We think it’s so great and yet we don’t tell anyone about it and don’t tell anyone about the Christ we encounter in it.”

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. John Rovell says:

    Where to begin? Changing language and replacing traditional names isn’t going to fool millenials like myself. Rachel Held Evans did an entire article about this kind of thing recently. Millenials can sniff out bs and illegitness from miles away. Mr. Greer, the seminarian reflected more truly where our generation is. We have been raised in an age where our faith has been Hillsong-ized. There are plenty of post-modern “worship centers” filled with people “really into the whole Jesus thing”. Many of us are beginning to see that as completely insincere. The Episcopal Church has an amazing gift in it’s ancient liturgy and traditions. Drawing people, especially those in the 18-35 year old range is going to involve SHOWING people who we are and what we offer, not telling them. The Evangelical Movement tried to erase our church’s contributions to Christianity in this country, and it is time we reverse this. However, re-introducing ourselves means being our legit selves. We need to keep our ancient rituals and liturgy but radically insert them into new situations. An excellent example of this is the “Ashes to Go” programs many churches have on Ash Wednesday. Changing our vocabulary won’t fool anyone, they’ll just see us as phonies or as ashamed of our past. We must bring our traditions to the outside world in a tangible way and not be afraid to say “I am Episcopalian” with all that entails.

    • Rich McDonough says:

      Bingo! As a baby boomer, I could not more whole heartedly agree! As a church, we have tried for too long to “be” what we think others want us to be. Changing terminology to fit in, or to be cool to a group of people is just silly. Be who we are and be proud of it! Thank you, John.

    • Brad Howard says:

      What John Rovell says!

      To which I would add: obviously, we want to craft the wording of our materials to be appropriate to its intended audience, but that does not mean that we throw away Episcopal terms. We shouldn’t dummy down, there’s enough of that everywhere in our culture. Instead, we should educate; that’s what people are seeking. I really can’t stand linguistic politics for many reasons, but on the most fundamental level I am opposed to fiddling with language because it exhausts energy on changing the words people use rather than addressing the realities those words represent.

    • Danny L Anderson says:

      AMEN ! One of the reasons I came to The Episcopal Church at 16 years old , 30 now and still love it .

    • I hope we can learn something from these alternative forms. It will take some time to see what that might be. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about our church.

      The concern I find myself with is what appears to be a blindside in the ENS reporting. This form is offered as voice of the millennials when in fact there are probably more people of that generation attending fairly traditional Episcopal Churches, especially those with some sensitivity to the ancient -future approach. Take a look at St. Paul’s Seattle for example — http://www.stpaulseattle.org/ and http://www.congregationaldevelopment.com/means-of-grace-hope-of-glory/2013/4/22/worship-that-swept-us-off-our-feet-saint-pauls-seattle.html

    • Susan Zimmerman says:

      Discipleship isn’t mentioned in the teaching series I grew up in…not one time is it mentioned in ‘any’ of the texts…kind of like the word Bishop isn’t found once in Elizabeth I’s thrity nine articles go figure…maybe because we’re in the church of Washington, Jay, Hamilton…for me the Scripture is the 1st source for discipleship as it tells all the God stories…2nd is our story (including women) as we now live in the time of the Holy Spirit (she)…in other words our story juxtaposed to Scripture is a very gradual self-formation, where ‘virtues’ are formed contextually within the circle of ones’ friends who share our ‘values’ wisdom and understanding.
      Some talk also needs to go forth comparing discipleship to cronyism…minus the $’s of course…

  2. I hope we’re listening to actual young voices like these!

  3. Anthony Parker says:

    Does the Rev’d Scott Claassen really think Jesus described himself other than as a Jew, or dispensed with his ancient religion’s terminology?? Today, our Orthodox Church friends, who are growing everywhere they are found, laugh at us as we try to make everything immediately accessible and immediately comprehensible to newcomers and inquirers. I have never even seen what we would call a proper service leaflet at an Orthodox service! Many of their theologians compare us to the rocky soil of Matthew’s parable: quick immediate results, but no depth, root, or staying power. One Orthodox laymen told me years ago, when our ring-binder altar service book was published by Church Publishing, that at least now our service book matched our theology. Our obsession with the immediate, so profoundly immature, seems unable to use or appreciate the depth of 2000 years of shared Christian experience and insight. When will we learn that while His yoke may be easy and his burthen light, following Jesus requires the depth and humility of a daily cross? When will we learn that centuries of reflection upon what that means enables us to do it more fully and richly? People like Mr Greer are our Church’s hope, as they discover what distinctive gifts we have to offer out of our wide and ancient English-flavored experience, taking from our store things both new and very old indeed.

    • John McCann says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Greer, and with Mr. Parker. Very, very thoughtful words, and encouraging.

  4. John McCann says:

    Agreed! Agreed! As a baby boomer- and I REALLY dislike the way we use the media’s terminoligy to “typecast us”- I can move easily among age groups. Am fairly new to the Episcopal church (confirmed 3 years ago), but am in deep, deep , deep. My faith journey has taken me to places I didnt expect to go. My church (Trinity Wall Street), has a diverse congregation, many opportunities for the laity to particpate- as a lay liturgical minister, a missionary, a number of service programs, and study classes. We are very lucky to have two historic churches, that offer on Sundays, two services at St. Paul’s Chapel, and two services at Trinity Wall Street. We really reflect the “three legged stool” of Anglicanism: “faith, tradition and reason”. Although my paternal grandfather was a missionary in China from 1895 to 1940, I was a “miltary brat” and had the good fortune to grow up with a father who was born in Beijing, I was born in Tokyo, one brother born in Washington DC, and the other in Paris, France, I experienced a lot of moving, and different mainline churches, When the “Fundamentalists” and “Evangelicals” held sway for the past 30 years or so with their “culture wars” agenda- the Church didnt seem to have anything to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I sense that the Anglican churches, and Pope Francis, want to lead us back to the foundatinal teachings of Christ- which are so strongly based on feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, helping the poor and broken, and I think that “Faith in Action” DEFINITELY resonates with the younger generation, I find most kids today raised on ideas of community service- and agree whole heartedly that our traditions and rituals dont need to be changed- its our LIVING OUR FAITH- and yes, I was one, who, on a very cold day in New York, was dispensing Ashes on the Go, These types of ministries take the church outside the walls of the institutiion, straight to peoples lives, Thanks for your thoughtful posts,

  5. I don’t think the use of “diocese” represented an attempt to emphasize episcopal leadership. When our church was formed, we spoke of “states,” since states were co-terminal with our judicatories. We needed another term when it became clear that some judicatories were only parts of states, with other parts in other judicatories. Perhaps “the Episcopal Church in Connecticut” seems to work fine, but “the Episcopal Church in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island in New York City, and the counties of Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester” seems a bit less euphonious than “the Episcopal Diocese of New York.”

    Communicating in ways that will be understood by the intended audience is fine. Simplification, however, which is always a temptation, can result in reduced efficiency of communication within our faith community. Episcopalians have many special terms because we have many objects and activities that can be otherwise described only by long phrases.

    • John Mack says:

      The Episcopal Church in Metro New York would work. But most New Yorkers would probably prefer Diocese. It’s not really that odd or off-putting.

  6. (The Rev. Canon) Thomas E. Winkler says:

    It seems to me that most organizations have a jargon or lingo that is peculiar to the organization. Boy Scouts and the Masons come immediately to mind. One becomes part of the organization, and acquires a sense of belonging, partly by learning the lingo. While the Episcopal Church has, perhaps, more jargon than most – and has my favorite in all the world, “Canon to the Ordinary” I don’t think we should give up any of them. We do need to do a much better job of telling the world who we are and what we do, but let’s keep the jargon. Much of it is charming; all of it is much more poetic and elegant than any of the substitutions I’ve heard. Most of those are pedantic and way too preachy.
    And, to be honest, our very name – Episcopal – is a word which most outsiders don’t understand and couldn’t spell!

  7. Alda Morgan says:

    I say a devout “AMEN!” to all who have responded. My heart sank as I read the ENS article. Here we go again, was my weary thought, trying to be trendy and “cool” and “in touch” with “today’s world”. I’m immensely grateful that all the responders love and appreciate the richness of the Anglican heritage and are willing to say so. And I’m especially grateful—no, thankful–to those who remind us that we need to do a better job of educating ourselves and inquirers. Bravo!

  8. Hughhansen says:

    I like the informed discussion, all the comments. They speak not only of maintaining the spiritual sense in our traditions and especially our orthodoxy in doctrine taken from faith tradition and reason, and also of a “doing” religion, like feeding and clothing the needy, which implies compassion, being able to go around policy if necessary to administer services to those who are in need. They do not imply at the church should not move bravely into the future. To accomplish the work of the Church we may have to at times recognize Rowan Williams’ observation that God does not always follow the chain of command. So, change our approach without changing our identity in the Christian faith. As for speaking clearly, the clearest message we can speak is that of love and mercy and reaching out to other people. That can embody modern languages and modern thought without changing the BCP or the essential traditional structures of the church. I too am a recently confirmed Episcopalian. How would I ever do without the biblically-centered liturgy of the Word, the sermon,the music, and especially the Eucharist? Do we not want a distinctive symbol in our communities that does not look like every other structure, and form of worship that does not look like every other meeting in a pluralistic, postmodern society? Are any of those forms of worship that difficult to comprehend? Surely, it is not implied here that we need a more entertaining atmosphere? I feel that I have found a gem in a field, and I have attempted to buy the field, lest I lose the gem. Are attempts underway to abscond with the gem and leave me impoverished? I hope not. I hope we will simply use the tools that God has placed in our hands to exemplify the body of Christ in our diocese.

  9. John B Hills says:

    A very, very long article to read….especially at 4:00 PM on July 3…..is this “church jargon”?

    Is Pat McCaughan aware that the Rev. Scott Claassen’s quotation which begins this article…as printed….seems to suggest that Jesus is the one who worships on Sunday, not necessarily the Reverend Mr. Claassen?

  10. Gerald Pemberton says:

    Where’s Arvella Schuller when you need her to further dumb down the hymns. No doubt she could really eviscerate Rite I. I don’t want to be part of a church that’s trendy. It was the beauty of the liturgy that first few me to the Episcopal church 50 years ago and has sustained me, and still inspires and uplifts me. . And fortunately much of it still remains in a few places.

  11. Hughhansen says:

    A correction to my comment above regarding Rowan Williams’ observation. As paraphrased by Benjamin Myers is: “….. God cannot be relied upon to work through the appropriate channels…”

  12. I echo so many of the points made in the comments above, and will add a few more. 1) Beauty (as in “the beauty of holiness”) is a spiritual quality and a theological virtue (though not as classicaly defined). It was part of our founding gift and identity with Cramner’s use of language in the 16th century. It was also very much a part of the mission of the Oxford Movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries – particularly in poor urban areas. We still need true beauty today as a counter-weight to the shallowness and downright tawdriness of much popular culture. And by beauty I do not mean that we should be stuck in any one musical or artistic style or time period. 2) The only reason, I think, that we assume that that people walking into our services should feel immediately “comfortable” (whatever that means) is the holdover from thinking that we are a Christian nation, we we are not. We are a country where the majority of people have historically claimed an affiliation with the Church; those are not the same thing. And why should we feel “comfortable” with God? As C.S. Lewis said (and the vast majority of the Bible makes clear) “Aslan is not a tame lion.” Do we really want to worship a tame, domesticated God? 3) Other faith traditions (some Christian, some not) have no expectation that a visitor or newcomer will have any facility with their beleifs or worship. Instead they say, in effect, “You are welcome here. Watch, learn, try it out, watch what we do, ask questions. Be patient. Eventually you will learn our ways and our life.” 4) Every summer I serve as a chaplain for a summer music course (one of about a dozen each year) where we have 100 kids, plus college students and 20/30s adults come for an intensive week of choral music, worship and fun – full choral Evensong every night. This is the highlight of the year for most of these kids, not just musically, but spiritually. Granted, this is not everyone’s interest, but there are certainly many kids and young adults in parishes throughout the country that find the Anglican tradition of worship to be life-giving. 5) Final thought – a Vestry member said at a recent meeting: “We shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone.” So, be who we are, each in the different neighborhoods and communites where Christ has planted us, and be open to the way the Holy Spirit leads us to serve those around us, as we are fed and inspired in our worship to do. And quit worrying about the outcome.

  13. Peter Stuart says:

    Any time one enters a new career field, or even moves across the country, there is a new vocabulary to master. I think much of our jargon conveys a mysterious beauty to what we do, think, and believe. That said, I personally try to limit the jargon until new converts have been given their decoder ring and secret handshake instructions.

  14. Richard A. Bamforth says:

    Scott Claassen has instigated a much needed dialogue in this ENS report. The multiple responses indicate its significance and I am grateful for their diversity. It all takes me back to the best years of Episcopal Life magazine when Nan Cobbey was Features Editor. Provocative articles brought forth numerous responses with very divergent opinions. Some may remember the article I wrote in those days in which I called for translation of some of our beloved liturgical language. I had the presumption of suggesting we replace archaic subjunctive forms that come across as vague and tentative to more declarative and kerygmatic ones that sound more celebratory. Try saying, for example, “The Lord is with you!” and “The peace of the Lord is always with you!” and “Almighty God has mercy on you, forgives all your sins ,etc.” Also, “Thank you, God!’ and “The peace of he Lord is always with you!” and “We praise you, Lord Christ!” If we indeed believe in such Good News, why should we be afraid of proclamation? Responses to my article ranged from grateful Hurrays to scandalized embarrassment. I hope the approaches of Claassen and the thads will continue to make comfortable Episcopalians squirm and open doors to those who can’t comprehend our lingo.

  15. Harry w Shipps says:

    I am pleasantly surprised at the overall positions of the respondents. And I support them.

  16. Despite the title, the article itself is focused on communicating the depth and breadth of our tradition, recognizing how much insider jargon gets in the way, given (my two cents) that we can no longer expect the same common background that we expected a generation ago. The article’s focus is communication, not trend-chasing and teaching, rather than blowing smoke.

    Also, given the level of commitment the above commentors have to the theology, tradition, and polity of our church, I’d like to point out that virtually nothing I’ve read has actually conflicted with the presented substance of the article. As Phyllis Tickle reminds us, we usually only refer to things as “traditional” which are less than a century old. There are many ancient and historic practices in our own tradition worth reclaiming that transcend the current and previous Prayer Books.

    The worship I experience in many of our churches has matched the most common word I hear from Episcopalians about worship: comfortable. It feels to me that our attachment to who and what we are now is much less like love and adoration for the ancient patterns of our liturgy and more like idolatry of particular wordings of that liturgy. This is proven every time we try to sing a hymn that is not one of the 30 favorites: more people complain about familiarity than say “oh, what beauty! Thank God we have 700 more like this one!”

    Pardon my own moment of snark, but my life in our church taught me that most of my elders had their primary (and final) formation in a confirmation class consisting of 12 year-olds memorizing the names of our sacred dishes rather than helping develop a life-long pattern of worshiping, seeking, and serving. And more, preparing our parents to pass on such a tradition to their/our children. I see this as the reason we’re even having this conversation: we have struggled for the last 50 years with passing on both the practices of our tradition and their purpose. We’re left with a faith and tradition we’re struggling to communicate and world less prepared to receive it. Like my Calculus professor who refused to teach the class a different way when none of us could follow him, we seem more inclined to teach the students we don’t have rather than the ones we do.

  17. Wow, I’m pleasantly surprised to see so many thinking people find problems with this article. It really IS about what we do, how we live, and how integrated we are with what we profess … it’s not just about the language we use. Don’t get me wrong, as a lifelong teacher I think language is important. But there has to be more to it than that, and simply finding new jargon doesn’t make the issues clearer or our mission more profound.

  18. Timothy Fountain says:

    There’s value in the exercise of trying to put our belief and practice into words that we can express to non-Christians. But as people go deeper in faith, it inevitably involves new fluency in thoughts, terms and practices that were at one time alien to the person. So I suppose I’m saying there’s some “both/and” to this – creating open doors for those who might explore our faith and also digging deeper pools for those who continue in discipleship.

    Another cultural aspect in play is the increased diversity in which we live. At one time, almost everybody in America spoke some “Christian.” Just look at political speeches up until just a generation or two ago. That’s no longer the case. So it is like we need an out of church language and an in church language, unified, as several are saying in the comments above, but a lifestyle that makes sense of the words we use.

  19. John Neitzel says:

    I have a somewhat different perspective as a Boomer whose life was shaped by the Lutheran and Episcopal Church. Language can be a barrier to understanding and welcoming, which is how I interpret the whole point that Rev. Claassen is making. Here at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle our best-attended service is Compline, with hundreds of Millenials streaming in early to find a seat. They are struck by the beauty and emotional impact of the ancient liturgy, but if our “words of welcome and invitation” sound like some secret society, it’s a barrier to deeper engagement. I personally like the Latin terms that have been integrated into our vocabulary, but what’s so terrible about explaining what an uncommon word means when it’s used? This is “translation,” not dumbing down. So let’s celebrate our rich heritage and simultaneously make it simple for people to understand and engage with it. We’ll all reap the benefits.

  20. Nick Cuccia says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Jimmy Bartz. As a business traveler, one of the more depressing discoveries I make is to walk into an Episcopal church in some new town and find that they’re doing it straight by the Book. That tells me nothing — and a lot — about that congregation. They’d just as soon post a sign outside that says, “We don’t take risks.” That said, the Incarnation is, in my un-seminary-educated opinion, a key concept in the life that we call Christian — I believe — and if you can’t find a way to back your congregation into that central concept so that they can use the term “Incarnation” meaningfully, you chose the wrong business or the wrong seminary.

  21. Janet M. Diehl says:

    Being hip is not necessarily good communication. Note the Bible translations that tried to be hip and now read as something that was trendy & has passed its prime. Such translations have their use, but for the long haul, good standard English stands longer. The medical profession uses specific language so they can talk about exact specific conditions, where it is, and what is it’s expected out come. Computer programers use another language, Chiefs another, those who repair cars another. If your serious about a subject, yes even following Jesus, there is a language used. I do not feel the Church needs to dump everything, rather it needs to educate (that was the original purpose of Sunday school). Also, there is nothing wrong in having a short teaching session incorporated into the Sunday service; call it the children’s sermon, but speak loud enough so all can hear. Define “churchy” words in a story context, Or clarify the meaning behind some of the prayers in the BCP, etc. Gee, sounds like something I’d like to do!!!

  22. Dennis Whittington says:

    With the Episcopal Church, USA shrinking in numbers it would seem that in order to communicate with the Un-churched and Non-Episcopalians a show of Hospitality would be to use terminology that is more likely to be understood . When I speak with my non-Episcopalian friends I refer to our “Senior Pastor”, not Rector, and I would refer “Communion” not the “Eucharist” as an example. There is plenty of time for a new Episcopalian to learn our traditions and terminology , once they decide to try our church, but how many will want to try our church if we overwhelm them with our own “Episcopaleze” language before they have even visited the Episcopal church . My opinion is that in order to even get non-Episcopalians to try the Episcopal Church, we need to speak to them in language that they understand . How newcomer and visitor friendly are our individual congregation websites, literature, worship bulletins , etc ?

    • Dustin Henderson says:

      Dennis, the problem with this is that most young people aren’t really going to have any associations, and certainly not positive associations, with words like “Senior Pastor” or “Communion” either. If you’re going down that road, I’d actually argue that words like “rector” and “Eucharist” have a neutral association since they ARE unfamiliar, and “pastor” and “communion” have a negative association since those words are more familiar from Evangelical and popular depictions of Christians.

  23. Doug Desper says:

    The Church – (insert denomination here) – has increasingly tried since the 1960s to be relevant to people of the Western consumer, loose loyalties culture. Oddly, the trend in nearly every denomination was and still is one of a nose dive in numbers. Clown Masses, Guitar Masses, Halloween Costume Masses, Plain Clothes Masses, Tent Masses, Change the Communion Element Masses…ad nauseum. Note, that we are dealing mainly with a gratification, short-attention culture who addresses life by asking all the wrong questions of nearly everything; that is, “what’s in it for me?” and “what’s else do you have?”. So, the Church starts to act up to try to maintain the attention of that mind and quite often veils the response as “The Gospel”. Somehow, I don’t think that “being relevant” to that mindset has ever worked, and certainly not in the past 50 years. Gratification and loose loyalty orientaton needs to be challenged and re-shaped. Kinda like Jesus did some time ago. I think his invitation was “come and die”.

  24. John Mack says:

    Praying community is OK. But it really should be something like “a community praying as Jesus taught us, and practicing respect for and love of neighbor, as Jesus taught us.

  25. Who says that we don’t mean the same thing today when we say the Nicene Creed? The bishops that wrote it weren’t fundamentalists.

  26. Dustin Henderson says:

    I’m certainly in the “Millennial Generation,” and I wouldn’t presume to speak for my whole generation, but what clap-trap. I live in a very secular east-coast city, and as it’s been said above, any Millennial I know could smell the embarrassed inauthenticity that this article presents from a mile away. Millennials don’t want easy; they want real, they want rooted. How about instead of co-opting the capitalist corporate-speak of phrases like “board of directors,” you might say, “. . . our vestry, which is what we call our board of lay-people here, is going to. . .” or “. . .our diocese, which is the name for the Church in a geographic area, is going to. . .” When you do that, BAM, the problem of unfamiliar words is solved. And for those so inclined, it’s a point of departure into whole swaths of our rich faith. As a young person, please have a little faith in us. We so want depth, connection, realness, and American society just spoon-feeds vapid crap. The church has a huge opportunity here if it will not waste it taking cues from that same society Millennials are trying to escape.

  27. What a wonderful discussion, revealing the diversity and richness of those in our tradition.

    Changing the name of an old fashioned place, such as replacing diocese with “the church in….”, or vestry with board of directors, or narthex with lobby, or Eucharist with communion, is hardly new. My natal diocese is only rarely spoken of as The Diocese of Olympia. More often, it’s the Episcopal Church in Western Washington.

    We’ve always had reformers and traditionalists in our communion. At our best, we welcome and support both, and everyone in between.

    I’m very glad to read of the emerging church movement, and of thads and street ministries of all kinds. I’m also very glad that I don’t have to lead them as I write a sermon and vest for mass in a sacristy that hasn’t been renamed.

  28. J.D. Godwin says:

    Just wondering how The Vicar of Dibley or Downton Abbey or any other of a host of anglophile-type mass media productions came to enjoy such enormous popularity without dumbing-down the language (jargon?) used. And wondering how changing one jargon for another jargon accomplishes much. I left a very healthy suburban Dallas parish after 30 years of ministry there, the last twelve as rector. Today it is a vibrant community (church) of 20, 30 and 40 somethings with hordes of excited and energized children and youth racing through its facilities every weekend (Sunday?) Its leadership is heavily weighted with neXtgeners who came to the parish in their from their higher education experiences looking for rootedness, tradition, open and welcoming hospitality and most of all (ask any of them…they’ll tell you) for strong, well-organized and carefully executed traditional Anglican liturgy and music. They had a choice of any number of area Episcopal or other denominations churches with entertainment-style music where none of the stately and supposedly off-putting traditional words of worship were used. They chose Transfiguration and grew with it. I’m glad for communities of worship that offer contemporary music and “accessible” language, and that they are growing. I’m also very glad for places like Transfiguration, Dallas (and shining stars like Epiphany and St. Paul’s, Seattle) that are thoroughly contemporary in their welcome and inclusion within the construct of historic Prayer Book worship and church music, and that they are growing. I am sorry when I read headlines like this one: “Church Jargon Jettisoned for Better Communication.” How short-sighted, pejorative and exclusionary.

  29. Jonathan Chesney says:
  30. Stephen Alexander says:

    A Presbyterian (talk about a word that isn’t readily understandable!) friend of mine told me he went to an Episcopal church near his hotel while away on business. He said he really enjoyed it, but was quite puzzled by seeing a repetitive thing in the bulletin: BCP (and a number); I told him it meant Book of Common Prayer–a light bulb went on. We do need to be careful about our”jargon” for sure, but to replace it with what basically is another jargon doesn’t make sense to me. “The Episcopal Church in Connecticut” wouldn’t mean any more to many than “The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.” You have to know what “Episcopal Church” means. I agree with those who say it’s okay to use our jargon–as long as we are careful about it. It’s been around a long time.

  31. Rob MacSwain says:

    “‘It comes from this great gift that’s been afforded by learning the language of the Episcopal Church and its liturgy and tradition and wanting the culture to understand those gifts but having some sense that it’s too great of an expectation for me to demand that the culture learn the language that I’ve learned,’ Bartz said.” But that’s precisely what conversion is, at least in part: learning to speak a new language. In a very real sense, we are the language we speak, both individually and collectively. To NOT demand that the culture learn the language we speak is to allow ourselves to be converted and conformed to THAT culture. A vestry is not a board of directors! To “translate” some terms into what we think are their cultural equivalents is actually to denature them. As Mr. Greer says, what we in fact need is a richer vocabulary than what is provided by the dominant secular/corporate culture, and the Prayer Book provides it. Talk about wisdom from the mouth of seminarians!

  32. Well, I “joined” the Episcopal church about 5 yrs. ago I came from the ELCA and I found a very different church. It is a bit “top heavy” and the “music” is beautiful but I wish that we could sing
    more songs that come from other churches, perhaps I just miss the one’s I grew up with. We do
    have another hymn book but most of our choir would not find it easy to sing so we stick with
    the old time ones. I know that some congregation members have told me that we need changes
    and I agree. The Episcopal church takes pride in it’s Traditions and Ritual however I would hope
    that neither of these become the major focal point of worship in the future. I know that what I
    am saying will bring a lot of “anger” and “defensive attitudes” into the mix. Traditions and Ritual
    are of course important but as a person NOT BORN an Episcopalian (cradle Episcopalian)
    it at times seems to become THE worship. Any time SCRIPTURE is used it is never out of date,
    however other sources need at times to be considered as to how they meet the needs of people
    today.

  33. I completely agree with what John Rovell and others have said. A lot of evangelical churches have dropped their denominational names in favor of some generic “brand”, and in doing so they have changed their traditions and theologies to accomodate a culture which is increasingly being swayed by a suburban “mall” mentality with its smorgasbord of choices. The “millenial” generation is increasingly reacting to all of this, and hopefully in the process we who live in this society will no longer be just “consumers” but transformers, whether they be Christian or not. Name changing and jargon in TEC mean nothing in the face of our Church’s challenge and opportunity through our worship, witness and mission to effect that change by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in and through our traditions.

  34. I am writing, rector of the Episcopal church in Munich. (Who thought there would be such a thing, but we have been here since 1896.) Here in Germany, people come to us, at last count we have members from 25 nations, because of our ancient liturgy and our openness in theology, philosophy and sociology. This kind of esoteric debate is irrelevant here. People want connection, support and love. And to the reverend who wrote that it drives him crazy that Episcopalians say, “I can go anywhere in the world and have the same liturgy,” perhaps he has not experienced the amazing worship I have around the Book of Common Prayer in places as wide-spread as Haiti, Malawi, India, Germany and Utah. The commonality is wonderful, not debilitating.

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