aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

more on clergy scouters

IV. Clergy speak a special language

A. Clergy tend to express themselves in theological terms.

Like every professional group, the clergy tend to speak and write in a highly technical shorthand. Even when communicating with laity, the clergy's talk and writing is filled with terms and referents not immediately understood by people who do not share their background. When communicating with those they know do not share their background, or in contexts where that background is not important, the clergy talk like everyone else; however, they are always sensitive to the meaning and use of terms from their backgrounds.

Each theological tradition has a specialized vocabulary and definitions. What is especially confusing for those from other backgrounds communicating with the clergy is that different theological traditions will often use the exact same words to mean slightly different things.

Clergy value communication in their special language. Those who use it correctly are appreciated and gain an advantage in enlisting the clergy's cooperation. Allowances are made for those who do not share their background, of course, but the chances of gaining their cooperation go down the more the clergy are forced to adopt the terms and usages of others.

Vagueness and false equivalence can be significant barriers to cooperation. The person who attempts to adopt a generic approach to communicating with the clergy often finds oneself making missteps that cost one the clergy's attention and respect. For instance, many people would see no difference between the terms "non-denominational" and "ecumenical," but some clergy would see a great difference in them, having a positive reaction to one and a negative reaction to the other. Even organizational words acquire special significance, and referring to a governing body as a "vestry" or a "session" when the local term is "board" or "council" can cause the clergy to discount what a visitor who is trying to enlist their help is saying. Inside the clergyperson's mind, there is a little voice saying, "he's not really talking to me."

Clergy are a part of their religious organizations.

Every religious organization has its own history. It has a sense of its own reason for being. There are events in the past -- often conflictual ones -- which have caused its existence. There are heroes (and sometimes, villains) in that history.

Every religious organization has its own corporate culture. There are org charts and rulebooks which describe formal ways of getting things done. Then, there are informal ways of getting things done. Scouting is assigned a different place in the corporate culture by each religious organization, and there may be a difference between its formal, and its informal, place.

Every religious organization has its own terminology. Those who speak the code get more done. Those who do not speak the code get frustrated. Those who mangle the code get ignored.

Religious organizations are not unique in having a history, a corporate culture, and a special lingo. All organizations, professional, voluntary, governmental, or business have these things.

Understanding the special language of the clergy equips those who approach the clergy on behalf of Scouting.

Council or District leaders approaching the clergy to gain their cooperation need to be aware of how they are being perceived. The more they speak as an insider -- or, at least, the more they avoid dropping code bricks -- the greater their chance of gaining that cooperation. Professional Scouters make several familiar mistakes in this regard. Many assume that all religious organizations are much of a muchness and make no effort to learn the local patois. Others speak only Scoutese, which demands that the clergyperson code shift to match the Scouter. Some, in attempting to demonstrate a kindred spirit, will draw upon their own theological background and its lingo, sometimes with comic or negative results. Those who want to make a sale should spend some time learning how to communicate to those from a given theological tradition. Using volunteers from the same theological tradition to bridge one into the conversation with the target clergy is also very helpful. Appointing Unit Commissioners from the same theological tradition as the Charter Partner whose units he or she is shepherding is a wise approach.

Scouters from the same local church should have a great advantage in communicating with their own clergy. Surprisingly, many attempt to speak Scoutese to their own pastors, with often less than optimum results. This may result from the local church Scouter being a lay (non-professional) user of the language native to the clergy (professional) user.

Denominational leaders, whether clergy or lay, are professional users of the clergy's special language. They are capable of translating Scoutese into the clergy's special language. They publish many resources which help those wishing to gain the help of the clergy and other leaders of their religious bodies. Many have official bodies which do training and program for their own denominations and which are capable of formulating a strategy for extending the reach of scouting ministry.

BSA's Religious Relationships Task Force and local Council Relationships Committees share a unique problem. Because they are gatherings of denominational leaders, one might assume that they are capable of things they are not. Because all the various denominational leaders on these bodies are outside their denominational settings, they are all forced to speak Scoutese with each other, so as not to advantage one group's special lingo over another's. This sets up the false equivalence problem mentioned, above. BSA's own publications on chaplaincy, on Scout Sunday, and other topics are often dismissed by clergy in their own natural settings, since they are written in a lowest common denominator kind of pidgin which makes them unappealing to clergy, who express themselves very differently on their own turf.

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