“Sorry, I didn’t have an order of service.”
The assistant head teacher trotted to the front of the school staff meeting, apologising that she had not received an agenda for the gathering and was unaware of the running order of speakers.
It was hard to imagine that many of the staff would have been readily familiar with the term “order of service.” Perhaps if they had been present at church weddings and funerals they would have seen the words printed on the sheet or pamphlet they had received at the church door. Perhaps they would have heard reference to the term during the proceedings, perhaps they would have heard the minister talk about a reading or a hymn on the order of service. But how many of the staff would have been at such events, and, if they had, how many would have remembered a passing reference to a form of words that are not an everyday combination?
The assistant head teacher was presumably one among a declining number of people still familiar with the terminology used by churches. Unfortunately, churches do not seem aware of how distant from everyday life is the vocabulary that church members take for granted.
Church notice boards, those signs often placed at gateways or perimeter walls to communicate with the wider community, may be incomprehensible to most of those who pass them.
Do church members stop and look at the words they use? How often is there a realisation that the very efforts that are meant to inform people of what the church is about can have the opposite effect?
Look at the terminology of church notice boards and posters, look at the names of the churches themselves, do these words mean anything to the people going up and down the street?
It would be too easy to single out the language employed by the Church of England. Churches often have odd sounding names and have people with odd sounding titles. What do even the common terms like “Holy Communion” and “Morning Prayer” mean to an entirely unchurched population? The evangelical churches are equally inaccessible to most people. Judging from the knowledge shown by secondary school students, terms such as “worship” are not readily understood, while words like “evangelical” and “pentecostal” are completely incomprehensible.
Unless the church manages a fundamental reorientation, in another generation’s time, there will be no-one at all who understands “order of service.”