Words matter

“Can you  get your girl to take care of that ?” I was as close to speechless as I get. I eked out a brief answer and quickly hung up the phone. Reflecting on the caller’s chosen words, I gave my best effort to assume the best –  that he did not mean to be either sexest or patronizing.

As I gently reminded one of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s finest priests at Clergy Conference last week when he used the phrase “out state”, words matter. Words  define, provide identity, demonstrate value and show respect. Words can also denigrate, diminish, demoralize and send a clear message of disrespect. Sometimes we use certain words out of ignorance, sometimes out old habits, and sometimes very intentionally.

Ponder the difference between “out-state” and “greater Minnesota.”  A significant number of folks have made it clear to me how one makes them feel not included and less than, while the other fills them with a sense of pride. There is also the matter of describing their faith communities as ‘parishes’ or ‘missions’ rather than using the Book of Common Prayer language and saying ‘congregations’. Again, one way feels to folks like they are being defined by size. The other conjures an image of being a gathered community where ministry takes place.

We are working hard in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota to be intentional about our language. Words do matter. They not only bring clarity to our identity, but also build unity in our community as Episcopalians in Minnesota.

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