A huge part of evangelization is hospitality: the inviting and welcoming of people designed to put them at ease and to help them feel at home. For us Catholics, one of the major obstacles to our efforts at being more hospitable is making assumptions that people speak “churchese,” which, as the Urban Dictionary describes, is a language of “words that are common within the church setting and are familiar only to those who attend church.” I have long advocated that we shape our announcements and invitations as though they were going to people who have never darkened the doors of a church, which, in many cases nowadays, is not hyperbole.
This means thinking twice about inviting people while using words, phrases, and acronyms that mean nothing to the average person who is not steeped in Catholic culture. I’m talking about examples such as:
- “Sign-ups for VBS begin this Saturday in the narthex.”
- “RCIA sessions will begin this September.”
- “Those interested in the annulment process should call the rectory.”
- “Our vicariate is offering a three-week series…”
- “Children participating in our weekly CLOW gather near the ambry…”
- “Registration for PSR (formerly CCD) will take place…”
- “This year, WYD will take place in…”
- “According to the GIRM, members of the assembly are to…”
- “Pre-Cana will take place on…”
To top it all off, when and if people find their way to events that we invite them to, using the above “coded” language, we then bombard them with more “churchese” related to doctrine and Catholic practices, using words and phrases such as apostolate, Divine Chaplet, diaconate, anamnesis, solemnity, beatification, ciborium, mystagogy, concelebration, and, yes, even the word catechesis and all of its variations (catechist, catechetical, catechumenate, Catechism).
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use these words! Our Catholic vocabulary is indeed part of who we are and holds an important place in our catechesis. What I am saying is that we need to look more closely at how we phrase things when we are inviting people to events and programs. If we are going to use the words, phrases, and acronyms mentioned above in our invitations, we should use those very opportunities to catechize (teach; inform; explain), so that our language does not present an obstacle to our efforts at being hospitable.
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Here’s a fun exercise: think of an announcement or invitation commonly used in faith formation circles, and in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page, write it first using “churchese,” and then rewrite it in a more welcoming way! Example: “Sign-ups for VBS begin this Saturday in the narthex,” vs. “Sign-ups for our Vacation Bible School (VBS) begin this Saturday in the narthex, which is the area just inside the entrance of the Church.”