Inclusive Language, Psalms

God’s Steadfast Love Endures Forever

(Palm Sunday A    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29)

In early March, 1992, a new pastor came to Large Church, where I was a member. I was excited because I had co-chaired the Search Committee and this was the culmination of our work. It happened that my mother was visiting the same weekend that the new pastor led his first worship service among us, and she knew how much it mattered to me. Although she had been to visit before, including for the baptism of my second child the year before, it seems to have been the first time she noticed the church's use of inclusive language. I believe she must have linked it to the arrival of the new pastor. Her assessment of the service included remarks like, "(audible sniff) I hope you weren't disappointed," and "Doesn't the language upset the men?"

Given that the new pastor was a tall white guy, it was a funny question, but it has remained with me. I know I wondered, too, why the use or non-use of a particular pronoun seemed to matter so much to people.

After fifteen years as a member at that church, I went to serve a smaller church where there had been no discussion about inclusive language. The longtime pastor had been a guy liberal in his own beliefs, but very orthodox in his practice, right down to using "thees and thous" in his prayer language. (He used them at my Installation service in 2003, so I have personal experience of hearing the words from his mouth.)

Old habits die hard. I gave a blessing at a church lunch on Sunday and after some words about Heifer Project, I found myself using a grace familiar from childhood, "Bless this food to our use, and us to thy loving service." I did a mental double-take! "Thy?" "Thy?"

Huh.

I do it, too.

This is a long way around to the psalm, but anytime we are celebrating a day in the church year that has a lot of memories for people, we are at risk of working against their experience rather than with it. How does my own experience bias me? I want the palms at the beginning of the service, not the end. Last year I gave this instruction, upon request from the ushers, but they still held them back. Force of habit. This year I will know to be more explicit at the last minute. I hoped to see people waving their palms, especially since we were doing Palms only at the beginning and then moving into a special Passiontide presentation. By the end of the service, the palms were out-of-sync with the rest of us.

Yet, God's steadfast love endures forever, despite our screw-ups, our debates about how to say the words, our differences of opinion about when to distribute the palms and our local reasons for wanting things a certain way. A wise colleague suggested that Main Street Church might have a history of disputes over cleaning up the mess related to palms. More likely they once had a pastor who once had a pastor who grew up in a church where they handed them out at the end of the service.

Most of the time we have no idea why we are doing the things we are doing, but God's steadfast love endures forever. Thank goodness.

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