Christianese

“So why do we call the collect the collect?” asked a member of my small group, who is a relative newcomer to Anglicanism.

For others who may also be unfamiliar with the mystical mysteries of a liturgical church, ‘the collect’ is an entirely different animal than the verb ‘to collect.’ For starters, it’s pronounced CALL-ekt, not co-LEKT. And a collect is, effectively, an opening prayer. Anglicans say collects, and so do Catholics and Lutherans – although they may serve slightly different purposes in these denominations.

Anyway, back to my small group meeting when Jay asked about the collect.

I was stumped. So was our fellow group member Michael, whose brother, dad, grandfather and uncle are all Anglican priests. (Michael is a librarian, so he considers himself the black sheep of the family.) He wondered if it had something to do with the offering (collection plate) – a plausible guess, in my opinion.

I promised to look it up and write a blog about it for all to ignore enjoy. Therefore, here goes:

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word may be as follows: In the more ancient practice, an invitation to kneel was given, and the people spend some short time in silent prayer, after which they were invited to stand. Then, the celebrant concluded the time of prayer by “collecting” their prayers in a unified petition of a general form, referred to as a collect.”

One of many Christian dictionaries one can find online.

Oh, so the collect is directly related to the secular verb collect. Makes sense. So why do we have to pronounce it funny? Because we’re Christians, that’s why.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our jargon, by our jargon.

A church building might have a nave, narthex, sanctuary, altar, transepts, sacristy, quire, apse, pews, chancel, font, and pulpit – and many of these features exist in non-church settings as well, and have regular names – like porch, bench, lobby and lectern. In a decade or two, will we have non-sequiturial churchy names for increasingly standard items like projector, sound system and chair? If so, I vote for luminatrix, audiocetator and situpon (respectfully borrowing a phrase from the Girl Guides) respectively.

Shameless pluggery alert: You very rarely hear any of these jargony Christianisms in my church (www.holytrinitycalgary.org). Our pastor talks about the foyer, the worship area and the stage pretty consistently.

One could write a whole series of blogs on the jargon of Communion alone. We use chalices and patens to serve the elements – and in the liturgical tradition, each of our linens and trays each have their own name (I bet the big, round wafer that the priest breaks during the prayers over the elements even has its own moniker).

The little bread wafers are often referred to as the host, although I haven’t heard of a parallel designation for the wine. I should ask Jim, our church’s one-man altar guild (although he has some pretty regular helpers – thanks, Blackmores and Newmans!). He knows all of these terms inside and out, but kindly and affectionately (to both the equipment and the people he’s talking to) refers to it all as the Holy Hardware.

One thing that also perplexes me about Communion is that Christians often refer to the elements as the bread and cup, not the bread and wine (or bread and grape juice). But we don’t drink the cup! By verbally emphasizing the cup, aren’t we inadvertently undervaluing the Blood of Christ it contains? Whatever Communion means to the denomination you belong to, the cup is just a cup – yet it gets top billing. Mr. Cranmer, I’d like to propose an amendment…

Speaking of Communion, this term is used fairly interchangeably with the word Eucharist, which gave me trouble when I first heard it. The ‘-ist’ suffix seems odd here – it would be more sensible to call the sacrament Eucharism, and the one performing it the Eucharist (like exorcism and exorcist – just sayin’).

I have similar perplexities with the term doxology.

This is a strange word when heard through secular headphones. After all, biology is the study of life, geology is the study of rocks, zoology is the study of animals, sociology is the study of society and so on.

Following that pattern, and repackaging one of my dad’s paradoxical old jokes, do Vegrevillians think doxology is the study of mallards? (Boo!) And while the pastor is reciting the doxology, is he a doxologist? If so, I guess the person whose field of expertise is studying doxologies would be a doxologyologist.

For Anglicans, doxology is most often used to describe a prayer we say near the end of our services; for example: Glory to God, whose power, working in us can do infinitely more than we ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever. Amen.

Other denominations use the term to apply to a specific prayer. According to Wikipedia, The Common Doxology goes like this: Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

According to Wiktionary, a doxology is ‘an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service.’ Do we really need such a specific, multisyllabic word to describe something this simple? It’s a prayer, let’s call it a prayer.

But I think the Christianism that gives me the most heartburn has to be fellowshipping. It seems that because worship is both verb and noun, and because fellowship also ends in ‘-ship,’ we feel we should be able to use it the same way. A Facebook friend once quipped that fellowshipping sounds like you’re putting a peer in the mailbox (shipping a fellow). At least we don’t also say discipleshipping and relationshipping – as far as I know.

On a more serious note, I also object to the use of the word fellowshipping because it sounds churchy and deliberate. Fellowshipping to me means standing around in a loud church hall or gymnasium, drinking mediocre coffee and trying to make small talk with people you don’t know very well. Once we’ve done that, we’ve filled our fellowshipping quota for the week.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in Coffee Time – but it’s the beginning of Christian community building, not the end of it.

Fellowship, by contrast, covers any time you spend with Christian friends – talking informally over a (hopefully decent) coffee or a pizza about topics that are serious or frivolous or anything inbetween. Fellowship happens in your church, your living room, your office, a coffee shop or a pub. Let’s get together for some fellowship; let’s not engage in fellowshipping.

As a devoted Jesus Freak and hopeless word geek, I actually enjoy a lot of this ridiculous, hair-splitting verbosity – I’m not above making up a term when it suits me, as you can tell. And I think it’s perfectly appropriate for us to highjack human language on God’s behalf. English was made to serve man, not man to serve English, after all.

But I’m uncomfortable with the reverence these terms are sometimes assigned. The items and actions they describe may be holy and heavenly, but the words themselves are just man-made, utilitarian, imperfect and earthly words. And I’m not sure that all this uppity jargon helps us a lot when it comes to attracting and retaining new members to the Body of Christ.

It’s not enough that we’re asking people to learn a new way to perceive and understand the world, to embrace a new approach to their time, talents and treasures (Ned Flandersy alliteration alert!) and to choose to have a personal relationship with a three-in-one God they can’t see. We’re also requiring them to learn a whole new, sometimes silly-sounding vocabulary that arbitrarily flouts many of the rules of conventional English.

The terms can definitely help Christians feel more religious, but do they really help bring anyone closer to God?

So the next time you’re about to invite someone into the nave after the doxology for some fellowshipping, maybe go back and translate your Christianese into English first.

Peace be with you.

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About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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9 Responses to Christianese

  1. Good stuff, Rob. I chuckled aloud several times. In Mennonite Brethren circles (the older ones, at least) we still sing the doxology. Quite beautiful. Funny, though, that it would get a scientific name. Doxa in classical Greek means opinion, but Paul commandeered it to refer to our opinion of God and so it came to mean “glory.” So I guess we’re singing the “glory-ology” – the study of glory? Huh? Still doesn’t make sense.

    THanks for the thoughts.

  2. karenpetkau says:

    As someone who was TRYING to learn how to set the altar for communion, this particularly hit home, as someone who gets hung up on words that seem to have nothing to do with the objects they are describing. Thingamabobbers and whatchamacallits work so much better!

  3. robpetkau says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Brad and Karen. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. Jim says:

    Hey, Rob! The large wafer the priest breaks is called the Celebrant’s Host, so-named because it is the wafer used by the celebrator–celebrant–for the purpose of the Eucharist.

    The pronunciation if collect is likely to do with the Latin verb which I think my research said was collectare. The first and third syllables were accented. This, strangely enough, means that it’s not just a Christian thing, but denominational, being Anglican and having those misunderstood Roman Catholic roots.

  5. robpetkau says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Jim — and for your ever-impressive knowledge of all things Anglican!

  6. Make me chuckle more than once Rob, and so true. I remember when I first started attending Church feeling very overwhelmed and confused by some of the jargon. Now I know some of it, and some of it I don’t, or get it mixed up, but have discovered that God doesn’t kick me out when I get it wrong 😉 Thank you for another very thoughtful and amusing post!

  7. robpetkau says:

    You’re welcome, Carrie. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

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