Kim Hartshorne on language

Monday, 7 January, 2013

Kim Hartshorne discusses the use of language and how, at the The Upper Room, they have had to strip back their language to allow people to express their faith in their own words.

Duration: 4:14   | Download Download mp3


Kim Hartshorne: My name's Kim Hartshorne and I'm the leader of a small missional community in Cirencester, in the South West and our project has been running nearly five years now, although we didn't know at the outset that we were a fresh expression of church. And we basically are in existence to reach out to people who are really on the margins of society and who might not ever get across the doors of church because of mental illness or agoraphobia or poverty or just feeling like they couldn't belong in that place. And one of the things that is interesting in that place is how we use language to communicate the big message of the gospel and to tell people of the hope and the great news that there is in Jesus Christ, but in language that's not religious or not traditionally churchy language. It's just an interesting thing to think about how you enculture the gospel in language that can be understood and can be accessed.

We've had some really interesting difficult issues with that lately around baptism. Yeah, we had some people who wanted to be baptised and confirmed which was such great news for us and a real development but so difficult to find liturgy and to find language that we could use in that service that made sense to people, that spoke to their experience, that reflected their journey from where they started and then moved towards Jesus. All of that wouldn't be expressed in the language that we are required to use in an authorised form of service and so it just put us in a slightly tricky situation and we had to work really hard with the bishop and with the incumbent in the parish to just try and come up with very pared down and sort of stripped back language that would allow people to say something authentic and truthful about how they did feel about God but didn't use words that would have come out of someone else's mouth or someone else's context.

I blogged about this recently on the Fresh Expressions website and I was really encouraged, there was a really good response to that and a lot of comments and conversation was generated about that and in particular a chap who actually sits on the liturgical commission came on and, you know, had a conversation about how their trying to understand these new projects and how they have pioneers come to speak to them so that they can begin to reflect the different sort of sets of language and words that people use. But I still think we've got a really long way to go actually as the established church to perhaps lean further towards new people who are coming in through fresh expressions.

After I wrote the blog post a lot of people really engaged with me in conversation, you know over Twitter and various media, and a lot of people kind of kept saying to me well what language would you use, what language do you want to be used. And I didn't really provide an example of it because that isn't the point. It's not what language I would use really, it's how do we give voice and give access to a voice of someone who… perhaps a homeless guy who hasn't had any education. What would he say about his journey to God? Well, in truth, probably very little. He would somehow stumble towards expressions, in a way that' he's never been welcomed before or belonged before and suddenly he's found a home with God and with this community of people where he's accepted and loved for who he is. But he doesn't have a huge amount of verbal ability and so simplicity and plain language and much fewer words I think is what we perhaps would think was called for in a formal service or a setting. In the eucharist perhaps just to really reduce down the words and leave space for silence, for people to express the thoughts of their heart to God without a lot of words that have come from perhaps a more educated setting and would never come out of their own mouths or hearts.


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