Of the languages I’ve learned to speak or read, English is by far the most difficult. I’m very glad that I learned it first, because I don’t think I ever would have learned to use it well as second language. This language we share is full of irregular usages and ambiguities and ready-made pits of misunderstanding. Like the street sign spotted in Hong Kong: BEWARE OF PEOPLE. We’ve all had experiences with the mysteries and vagaries of the English language over the years – some humorous, others frustrating. Please do send me your favorite, if you’d like.
Here are just a few pieces of English language mischief that I hear fairly often as I travel in your service among the congregations of the Iowa Conference:
·“They” when used as a pronoun replacing the name of our own congregation. When we’re speaking of our own congregation, we’re speaking of “we” and “us”, not “they” and “them”.
*If we are speaking of our congregation’s governing body or of another group within our congregation, it’s a fine idea to name the group.
*If we are speaking of a group of individuals in our congregation who share an idea or an opinion, it’s a fine idea to use names.
·“They” when used as a pronoun replacing “The Iowa Conference”. We, as members of the congregations of the Iowa Conference, ARE the Iowa Conference. We’re “we” and “us”, not “they” and “them”.
·“The Conference” when used to mean a member or members of the Conference staff. If we’re speaking of a member or members of the Iowa Conference staff, it’s wonderfully helpful to use the names of staff members.
·“The Conference” when used to mean our Iowa Conference Board of Directors or the delegates at a business meeting of the Iowa Conference. It’s a great idea to use instead, “our Iowa Conference Board of Directors” and “our Iowa Conference Annual Meeting delegates”.
·“The denomination” or “the UCC” when used to mean a member of the Conference staff or the Iowa Conference Board of Directors or the Iowa Conference Annual Meeting delegates.
·“The denomination” or “the UCC” when used to mean an action of our General Synod. “Our General Synod” or “our General Synod delegates” are both more helpfully clear.
·“The denomination” or “the UCC” when used of a member of our national staff or an office of our national setting. It’s a very good idea to use the name of the national staff member or the name of the office. I don’t always know the correct names! Then, I think it’s best for me to say, for example, “My brother or sister who is responsible for One Great Hour of Sharing” (when I can’t remember Susan Saunders’ name!).
I join you in the holy work of remembering the “we” of which I am a part, and of speaking the names of those who are my brothers and sisters in this holy work. I’ll watch for your favorite English head-scratchers. Here’s another (for all the dear bikers among us in the Iowa Conference) – an instruction on a helmet-mounted mirror: “Remember, objects in the mirror are actually behind you.”
In Christ’s love,
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister