Inclusive Language

Ruth has the skinny on the Inclusive Language amendments that the College of Bishops has licensed for permitted use.

The paper proclaiming these amendments has not reached these parts and I’m not sure what that situation means liturgically.

Most of the amendments are not particularly surprising, and indeed, some of them have been in use for many years in St Mary’s, licensed more by the gentle nodding of one mitre or another than by any more troublesome process.

I’m in favour of using language that does not leave people feeling left out of worship. It seems to me to be more a matter of politeness than theology. And theology is trumped by politesse as all good Anglicans know.

Here in St Mary’s we do have an inclusive language policy and so incorporting the amendments which are now on offer and which we don’t already include will happen without, I suspect, any fuss at all.

Generally speaking at St Mary’s, you can expect to find us trying to use language that is inclusive of persons at all modern language services. Choral Evensong and the 1970 Liturgy we don’t mess too much with. We try to use inclusive language in hymnody and actively look for inclusive versions of hymns. That’s been the tradition since long before I got here. Its also harder to do than it seems.

There are a small number of exceptions which I do allow through the net. Dear Lord and Father of mankind is a hymn I can’t quite bear to lose and can’t quite bear to change the first line of. The other obvious one from the past is He who would valient be. It seems to both myself and to the director of music that its permissable to allow exclusive language in hymns which directly address the reality of hobgoblins.

I’m no pushover though. Some things just don’t get sung no more, no more. Firmly I may believe and truely, but it won’t be sung here whilst I am provost.

We try to use a wide variety of imagery relating to God in what we sing here. That means looking out for hymns which use things other than male language (Father, Lord, King) to balance those which do use such language.

As always with hymns, you can’t please everyone. However I think our hymnody is, whilst tending occasionally towards the eccentric, the most exciting I’ve found anywhere.

Christmas Carols can be trouble, whichever way you approach them. And I’ve been planning Christmas just this week.

As for the new amendments that the Bishops are permitting, I welcome the texts. I don’t welcome the way this has been done. If it was worth doing, it was worth going through a synodical process and amending the actual texts so that these were for everyone and not simply options. That’s what we have always done before. This method rather makes one feel that the Fathers think that they know better than the rest of us and don’t really think this is that important.

Not quite the desired message when dealing with issues of inclusivity, I’d have said.

(Indeed, I think I did say so at General Synod last year, if I remember rightly).


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    More balance than the absence or presence of any one image I would say – but that is just me.

    I personally do particularly detest the theology behind the readings in the trad. ‘lessons and carols’ – and the implication behind them that the growth in understanding of God in the Hebrew Scriptures runs from Genesis up to Isaiah, and, (and this is the worse bit) includes no demand at all for human justice as part of the package. Which is bizarre. Anything that happens in the hymns surrounding this is, in my book, less of a mess.

    And yet, and yet, each and every single one of the readings is a beautiful thing.

    But, other things affect others – what whatever we do, we ain’t ever going to get the whole of God into anything – not even the universe.

    And this consoles me a lot.

  2. fr dougal says

    I agrees on the whole – certainly a divine fiat from the Liturgy bods via the College of Pointyhats ain’t synodical. But what’s the problem with Firmly I believe? One of my favourite hymns?

  3. Its a hymn to Jesus’s manhood, John. (That in itself makes some people titter in an unhelpful way).

    Firmly I believe and truly
    God is Three, and God is One;
    And I next acknowledge duly
    Manhood taken by the Son.

  4. I sat bolt upright in bed last night, alarmed at the realisation that this talk of hobgoblins is probably not terribly inclusive language anyway.

    What about all the regular goblins? Where are they represented in our hymnody?

    More on the hobgoblin/regular goblin divide here.

  5. Is the Father and Son in such hymns necessarily problematic? Is there no way to reclaim them, say by believing-whilst-singing that Jesus happened to be male and God is often described as a Father, but this in now way implies a necessarily patriarchal God? Afterall, people can sing songs that just refer to an ungendered God yet still think of God as a necessarily male Him.

    Oddly, although evangelical churches (in my experience) aren’t on the cutting edge of inclusive language, we do sing lots of ‘girly’ songs about intimacy/Jesus touching our secret place etc etc which are a bit queer (literally) and so possibly progressive?

  6. Hi Ryan

    We do sing hymns in which God is seen as Father and Son. We consciously look for hymns which celebrate other images too, for that is the biblical witness which we inherit.

    However, seeing God as Father or Son within a range of other images is quite different to singing a hymn which explicitly honours the “Manhood” of Jesus.

    I rather think that the manhood of Jesus is the least important thing in the scheme of Salvation. Others will probably disagree.

  7. David | Dah•veed says

    But Kelvin, in reading all the verses, it is more than apparent to me that manhood in this setting is not referring to the fact that Jesus had a penis! It is a reference to his humanity, being human, having flesh and blood.

    I would see any attempt to read it otherwise an off-color attempt at titillation.

  8. Too much risk of tittering in the choir for it to be sung in these parts, I fear.

    And the point about inclusive language is that if we want to sing about Jesus’s humanity, these days we need to use language which references his being human rather than the fact that he was male.

  9. David | Dah•veed says

    OK, I admit to being slow, especially when it comes to off-color English. I think that I get it now. Manhood has another connotation that immediately comes to mind for you lot than first comes to mind for me.

    I wish to remain in my innocence and naiveté.

  10. Elizabeth says

    I have been pondering this post, and Rev. Ruth’s, and the liturgy amendments. I welcome them, but agree that the process is unfortunate and the ‘optional’ status is odd. I find the inclusive language for people and the diversity of images for the divine in the hymnody and prayers at St Mary’s deeply encouraging, but I still think we have a long way to go before our liturgy is as inclusive as it could be. Our anthropomorphic images for God are overwhelmingly masculine; in our liturgy, God is most often refered to as Father, Lord and He. And these changes don’t go very far in addressing it (especially the first two). How would our worship change if we also used Mother, Sister, She?

  11. Simon says

    As an ordinand on a part time course I have the “joy” of listening to lots of worship songs as my fellow, far more Evangelical, students plan worship. Issues of gender would be a welcome distraction from having to sing, with monotonous regularity,‘Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”. When gently and pastorally questioned about how they could chose hymns with such lyrics they don’t seem to understand what the problem is.

  12. Rosemary Hannah says

    Simon – I refuse to sing words with I disagree. Also, I would challenge again and again the theology. Politely of course. But again and again.

  13. agatha says

    I know I’m not a theologian, certainly not an inclusive one, but like David I am not seeing a problem with Firmly etc. Was Jesus not a man then?

  14. Jesus was a man. I’ve no interest in singing hymns directed towards his manhood.

  15. If the problem is a particular word – rather than the wider theology of a hymn or worship song – can’t it be changed? I’m no musician, and can’t thing of a substitute for ‘manhood’ that would scan and be apt. But surely someone can! 🙂

  16. Anthea says

    Sometimes I cannot believe the amount of time we ‘peskypalians’ spend discussing subjects like ‘inclusive language’. Think back to the time when someone wanted to change the sacred writings from Hebrew to Greek and then from Greek to all these other languages so that people could really understand them, what would have happened if the people in charge had succumbed to pressure from people supporting the status quo. What if they had decided, ‘we can’t do this it’s not right’?
    Come on! What’s really happening? Let’s stop worrying about the language, even though it should be undestood in the context of the slightly less patriarchal society that is the 21st century. Lets get on with what ‘love’ asks of us or maybe we could ignore the world and its people by taking so much time discussing the minutiae of inclusive language?

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