Lost in Translation

I knew my college friend was speaking English, and yet I was struggling to follow each sentence. Even the PowerPoint slides didn’t help because they were covered with formulas and numbers that in theory I should recognize, but as much as I could understand, they might have been written in cuneiform.

The rest of the students in the room nodded along, occasional questions were raised, and at the 20-minute mark, I had given up any belief that I could understand what was happening, and just treated it like an anthropological exercise. Of course, I joined with the gathered crowd and offered warm applause when she finished her physics thesis presentation. While I will not pretend to understand what my friend’s thesis was about, I knew the amount of time that had gone into each sentence, the passion that was clear in every statement; I just didn’t understand the details.

The longer we are in a specialized field, the easier it is to slip into specialized language. When we let a string of strange acronyms or odd words hang in the air, without any malice, we are telling someone whether or not they belong. Do they know the secret code?

I would like to believe that church never feels like this, but I know, even as a pastor raised in the Presbyterian church, walking into a new community can be like walking into a new world.

For the past month, members of your Associate Pastor Nominating Committee have been working in this difficult space. They are in the great task of translating which is a funny process. On one hand, this group of dedicated church members have been learning a new language: the rarefied language of the Presbyterian Church’s process to call a new youth pastor. They have also been working on how to best translate the specifics of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church so that someone outside of our church can see and know what God is doing here.

We would like to invite you to be a part of that translating process. On Wednesday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m., you are invited to be a part of an open forum that will help the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee better define the parameters of their search.

You’ll hear more from the committee in the months ahead. Sometimes the language they use will be unfamiliar. It might even feel a little strange, but we are going to do our best to share its meaning with you. Indeed, it would have been odd if my friend had abandoned the exact language of physics when they were the best tool to explain her work. So here’s your first Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) vocabulary lesson:


As a church, we have an exact language when we talk about the relationship between a church and a pastor. A pastor is not hired; he or she is called to an office. The word “called” reflects our belief that God, the community and the individual are equally a part of a mutual decision to work together in this particular place. When a church searches for a pastor and a pastor searches for a congregation, it is known as the call process.