Saying Bad Words in Church
Very likely, all of us have a story about bad words in church. Whether from our childhoods, from our children, from a startled adult, or even from a minister. Those stories usually bring up a rye laugh, or perhaps some embarrassment—hopefully not too much.
Mine is that one Sunday in Children’s Learning Time, I was reading a Bible story that included the word “Christ.” I didn’t notice any problems while I was reading but when I finished and asked if anyone had any questions about the story, one child’s arm shot up. When I called on him he said, “I didn’t think we were supposed to say that.” When I asked him what we weren’t supposed to say, he replied, “The C word.” As you might expect, this child had learned not to say “Christ”—“The C word” at home, but had not been taught what it really meant, or that it is fine to use in other contexts. That was an interesting day.
Turns out that there are other bad church words that need a little more exploration. Among others, there are: the E word—evangelization, the M word—mission, the V word—volunteering, and the other C word—change.
In seminary we learned that once a congregation knows that a pastor cares about them and has learned that they can trust the pastor, one major change per year is about all most congregations will want to tolerate. These “major” changes included things like altering the Order of Worship, introducing a handful of “new” hymns, or varying how a ritual is performed. But all of that was pre-pandemic. Over the past couple of years congregations—definitely including this one—have had to not only tolerate but survive and triumph over major changes every couple of weeks. We have done that and more.
I preached once about how I used to be a committed back-pew-sitter, before God got a sense of humor and called me into ministry. Since making that transition from the back of the church to the front, I have found a trend in where I am called and what I am called to do there. The image that comes to mind for that trend is a bridge. When I interned as an Interim Associate Pastor, it was when a church was trialing how best to become a “teaching church.” When I interned with a University Chaplain’s office, it was during the university’s transition from an association with a denomination to having their own identity. When I served as lay minister in my first church, it was during a rocky pastoral transition. As an intern hospital chaplain, staff were learning a new computer system and preparing to move to a new hospital building. And here, we have had a mixture of those things plus the virus.
Now that we are on the other side of our pastoral transition, hybrid worship is set up quite well, thanks to our talented tech volunteers, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how “bad” the word change is. It’s an unavoidable part of our lives. Change happens; it’s up to us how we respond. If anything, the fact that First United gathers as a community of faith gives all of us more resources of hope, peace, and faith to carry all of us through any amount of change.
P.S. Those resources are one another!
Blessings to You All,