A few years ago I was in a worship service singing the song "All Are Welcome" by Marty Haugen in our new hymnal "Community of Christ Sings." Check out this video by Chris Brunelle if you haven't heard it. It's a beautiful song singing about the worth of all people and how everyone is invited into this space. I understood the message of the song as I read the words and sang along. However it didn't really resonate with me until my youngest son, who was two at the time, starting singing "All Welcome" days later. Even though his language skills were not developed enough for him to say the entire phrase I knew this is what God's love is all about. At two years old he got it! All are Welcome in this Place! Accepting people for who they are! Creating authentic relationships with others that uphold their worth! It also made me realize the power of the messages we give our children even in the earliest of days. At two years old my son is hearing a collective voice singing the words "Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live" and "All Are Welcome." I can only imagine how this message and others will impact his worldview and interactions with others as he gets older.
Our language is a major piece of welcoming others. The words we choose can be powerful and impact others in both positive and negative ways. What messages are you sending with your conversations? How has the language in your environment shaped who you are and how you see the world? In what ways is your language welcoming others into relationship with you and the God you know?
Language Impacts Thought Processes
In an article by Alan Yu with NPR titled "How Language Seems to Shape One's View of the World" he describes how the differences in language can change how we see the world. Language influences how we think and what we look for in interactions. You can also check out this TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky who reiterates similar findings of Mr. Yu in further depth. Enjoy!
Welkom, Bienvenue, Salve, Velkommen, Afio mai, Maeva, Bienvenido! This is just many ways to say welcome in other languages. Check out the translation of the word Welcome in other languages at Omniglot.com. How we use our language can help others feel welcome. However its important to remember hospitality is more than just our language but also the messages we send in all aspects of our lives. Here are some specific ways to be more welcoming and inclusive with our language.
1. Smile - Welcoming starts with our facial expressions. Non-verbal body language makes up most of our communication. If we greet each person with a smile we immediately send warmth and comfort.
2. Be Person Centered - Genuinely focus on the person by asking questions and getting to know them. Many people like to talk about who they are and what they are doing. Be active listeners allowing them to openly share and be thankful for them talking with you.
3. Avoid Excluding Others - Avoid using expressions or words that may exclude others or certain groups. This allows others to feel welcome and open to express their true thoughts and opinions. This can be done by using words such as we, us, or ours to evoke commonality.
4. Be Gender Neutral - This allows people to interpret the information in their worldview. In church settings God is often depicted as a father/ man though many people have had poor relationships with their father or other men. Using gender neutral language to express the divine gives others the opportunity to further their relationship in how they see fit.
5. Speak Common Language - Sometimes certain groups have acronyms, slang, or language which is used that others do not know. It's welcoming if we explain the language to those outside of those groups or to avoid the the use of them all together if we know there are outsiders there.
Language and Spirituality
What we say about our lives both personally and spiritually makes a huge difference! When we surround ourselves with welcoming language and intentionally focusing on making others feel included than as a by product we become more welcoming. In contrast when we are in groups that exclude others or limit various groups abilities we are as well impacted.
Church in particular can be a vital place for welcoming language to develop. Prayers, liturgies, responses, sacraments, singing, sermons, etc. all use language as a way to connect us spiritually with the divine. Many times it is through our words that we communicate with God. I know the hymnal referenced above was intentionally put together using peaceful and inclusive language. Language can be a spiritual guide helping us construct how our relationship with the divine is developing and maturing.
However I want to acknowledge that many have not felt welcomed, safe, or included at churches. I believe it is important for churches to use language and act in ways that welcome all people, stand up for the equal rights of others, and give opportunity for anyone to serve in any role. For all those searching and questioning, I hope you will find that welcoming community to further your spiritual journey.
How do you speak about your spiritual life and church?
What language do you use to welcome and accept others?
What spiritual practices or religious traditions evoke welcoming language?
What does the phrase "All Are Welcome" truly mean?
It is my pleasure to be able to write something that may be beneficial to you or others. I know it can be uncomfortable to comment but I welcome any and all thoughts to this article or the questions above. This week please reflect on the language you use to welcome others.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.