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Language: Small Difference, Big Impact

I first met Sarah Ress through South Christian High School’s Connections group, where she was an active organizer for activities and events that fostered friendships between students of all abilities. Her passion and advocacy for inclusion extended beyond high school into college, where she now studies and dreams about creating adaptive fitness opportunities for people with disabilities, especially veterans. In today’s post, Sarah shares the impact of language on her experience and acceptance within Christian community. – Katie Barkley, All Belong

"The first time I heard the priest say those six words of invitation, I felt like I was truly acknowledged as part of the congregation." Sarah RessWhat do you think of when you define a Christian congregation? For me, I envision a united group of people who have truly chosen to live for something more than their own lives. They have experienced the love of Christ and are driven to serve Him and share that love with others. This is a family that accepts all, reaching out to the lonely and broken, caring for the outcasts and treating them as brothers and sisters. This picture sounds lovely, and a majority of the time, I think it’s accurate.

I spend my time between two local parishes, depending on my ride and availability each Sunday. Both congregations have offered many sermons that have changed the way that I see the Catholic faith and the love that Jesus continues to pour out for me. I am so blessed to have two communities that I can worship with on a weekly basis. However, I prefer one church over the other for what might seem to be a very superficial reason, but for me, it is not.

Language within the church is important. It impacts many people, through the words that come from the Word Himself, Jesus Christ, and those that we say to each other.
The phrasing used within my two worship communities has impacted my experiences there.

At the time when the congregation is invited to stand, the priest at one parish will simply say “Please stand.” The priest from the other parish says, “Please stand if you are able.” Again, it seems like a small thing. You might even be thinking that I’m rather nitpicky and I should just let it go. Please, let me explain. I choose to sit in church, every week, for the entire duration of this mass. More often than not, the only people who are doing the same are people who surpass me in age by several decades. It took me a long time to be comfortable doing this, but now I think nothing of it, knowing that attempting to omit the physical pain I experience from standing allows me to focus more on the mass.

In my eyes, Christians are supposed to be united in worship and love those who are different from them. There are still people almost every mass that give me curious glances, because I am a healthy looking twenty-something who is sitting with elderly folks. In that respect, I am somewhat of an outcast, even in my own church family.
However, the first time I went to the second parish and heard the priest say those six words of invitation, that slight change from what I was used to, I felt like I was truly acknowledged as a part of the congregation.

How do we help other churches create this feeling for members of their communities? We keep in mind that accessibility and inclusion aren’t just about having automatic doors and displaying the lyrics on a screen during worship. The language that is used during services can make a huge difference as well, even if it’s only adding four words to change a sentence. As a community, we move forward. We try every day to serve Him, to keep an eye out for those who may need an extra dose of His love, and we refuse to become stagnant in our worship – always adapting so that we can be united in our praise.



What phrases are heard within your faith community? Share in the Comment section below.

For inclusive language suggestions for your congregation, please visit this page.

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Sarah Ress photoSarah Ress is a junior at Aquinas College, pursuing a degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Spanish. Usually you can find her studying or in the gym during the week, but her weekends are spent hanging out with family and trying out new recipes. Cerebral Palsy is a part of her story, but she refuses to let it have the reigns on her life, that’s the Lord’s job.