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“Now that’s a Lambeth of an idea!” exclaimed the bishop.
This led to a hearty round of knee-slapping and head-tossing by everyone in the room.
Everyone except me.
Recognizing that I had missed the inside joke, I did what anyone else in that situation would have done: I faked it. And pretended tohave a delayed reaction to the utter hilarity of a reference that flew way over my head.
After the meeting, I googled “Lambeth.” The official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Then, I carefully stored the meaning and its context in my cerebral file. The one that’s labelled “useful tidbits on being Anglican.”
I was five years into my life with the church and had still not learned to speak fluent Anglican. I had no idea what an odyssey of trial and error, shame and humiliation, it was going to be.
Before I joined the church, I thought of myself as gifted with languages. After all, it had taken me only six months to learn to speak fluent Spanish. But more than a decade post-confirmation, I was still tongue-tied and suffering from an acute case of “foot in mouth” syndrome whenever I ventured out of the safety of my pew and did anything more than pray silently.
There was, however, a period during my diocesan congregational development work when I really felt I had arrived. I was having a prolocutorial, hermeneutical, Lambethian good time! But on congregational visits, I soon discovered that my Dickensian love affair with the uncommonness of my new language was alienating me from the very people I had been called to serve. I had inadvertently become an “insider’s insider”-difficult to understand and even harder to warm up to.
I quickly remedied the situation by adopting a hybrid vocabulary: calling on appropriate Anglicanisms so as not to offend clergy; and at the same time, being careful to include enough everyday language for everybody else. I noticed this new, dual approach reduced the number of people who visibly winced whenever I spoke.
Still, I have not been able to completely divest myself of my amateur standing in the speaking Anglican department. In spite of my best efforts, many slap-on-the-wrist moments remain. It’s left me wondering if I will ever get it right.
For example, I used to say “sermon” as in “I really enjoyed your sermon this morning” until I was told that it ought to be “homily.” Note taken. Moments later, with someone else, I am told not to use “homily.” Now what? Should I say, “I really enjoyed your talk this morning” or make up my own words, as in, “You really blew the doors off with that sermily today”?
Can somebody help me out here?
Once, I was corrected by a priest about having referred to “the sacrament of marriage” in an email. He wrote back that marriage is “not widely known as a sacrament.” The exchange left me red-faced, and I immediately began placing sticky notes all over my cerebral folder. But the very same week, I read a reference to “the sacrament of marriage” on the Church of England website. The C of E is the mother ship, for heaven’s sake! Surely they know if marriage is a sacrament or not. Will the confusion never end?
Lacking the confidence I assume is afforded the cradle Anglican, I dwell betwixt and between, caught in linguistic limbo. I wonder what might happen if a more generous posture was adopted to acquaint people with our language? I think Spanish-speaking people, some of whom encouraged me to practise their language the way a child does, would make wonderful role models. In their company, I was free to experiment and make mistakes without fear of looking foolish. Their ethos? “Close enough is good enough.” They forgave me my tendency to butcher their language with hard r’s and badly conjugated verbs. When this happened, I would receive a smile and a “muy bien,” urging me onward and upward.
By contrast, Episcopalians do not suffer fools gladly. Experimentation is akin to heresy and offenders are often set right in the most ungenerous and unforgiving way. Come to think of it, this may contribute to the reason why lay people (oops, sorry, “the laity”) are sometimes very, very quiet at Bible studies.
In the immortal words of that famous amphibian-American philosopher, Kermit the Frog, “it’s not easy being green.” The same could be said for being Anglican.
However, I have not lost all hope. There are always options to explore for those of us who seek both to understand and be understood. I was delighted to meet some Spanish-speaking Anglicans at the diocese of Toronto synod recently and I’m toying with the idea of asking them to teach me how to speak Spanglican. Then I can translate it back to English, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally get it right.
Michelle Hauser is a parishioner at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Napanee, Ont., and manager of annual giving for the Anglican Church of Canada.