The Whys and Hows of Bilingual Worship

David Hoonjin Chai The Changing Face of Adult Education

Chai_large_0

In today’s congregations, diversity has become—or should become—a staple. The number of immigrants in our nations continues to rise. And we need to minister to them and invite them into God’s church. But we cannot honestly invite others into the church if we are not willing to provide services in their languages. Also, in immigrant churches, different languages are spoken within a single congregation by different generations; bilingual worship is necessary if these churches wish to worship together as a family.

The bilingual style of worship is not new; it has been present since the early church. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, while the New Testament was written in Greek. Different languages were also employed in the liturgies of the early church, such as Maranatha, which is Aramaic for “Our Lord, Come!” and Halleluia, Hosanna, and Amen, which is Jewish synagogue language.

The Directory for Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA) encourages worship leaders to remember this diversity:

The church shall strive in its worship to use language about God which is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. The church is committed to using language in such a way that all members of the community of faith may recognize themselves to be included, addressed, and equally cherished before God.” (W.1.2006b)

If you would like to read more about bilingual worship services, see Dr. Paul Huh’s recent article, “Creating Bilingual Worship Services in Korean and English”, Call to Worship, Vol. 37.4/2003-2004.

Issues in Bilingual Worship

Hospitality
Showing hospitality towards guests who attend your worship service is very important, for worship is a homecoming experience. Congregations should act as hosts and acknowledge other languages to make all visitors feel welcome.

Solidarity 
Worship is a community-building experience, where Christians from all different backgrounds come together to commune in God’s glory. In order to have solidarity together as a congregation for worship, we must “wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33), being sensitive to one another as different languages are spoken. Wait for one another, and pray together.

Identity 
A bilingual worship service is more than just a translation of one language over to the other. It’s a practice that will propose the future shapes and patterns for liturgical life in the immigrant churches, which requires embracing both languages and living in two worlds at once. This approach reflects not only the lingual identity, but the Christian identity.  All Christians must embrace two worlds at once—their Christian identity to God along with their Christian identity to each other.

A Word of Advice…

Worship Leadership

  • A congregation does not need a bilingual leader to have a bilingual worship service. Volunteers can add the language diversity.

Visual Help

  • Using multi-media visual aids can help a congregation follow the flow of a bilingual worship service—no matter what languages are included.
  •  Using parallel columns of two languages, scrolling vertically, will allow the congregation to both read at the same time, paying attention to the pace and phrasing of each other.

Special Occasions

  • If the church currently has separate worship services, use special occasions to come together and celebrate diversity within the church in order to include everyone in one worship service.
  • Churches without separated services can also create a welcoming environment by including other languages.

Personalize the Worship 
Make sure the worship service provides at least one encountering moment with God within each groups’ own language and style of worship. Remember to personalize the translation and direct the words towards the appropriate style, age, and/or culture.

For instance,

  • Choose hymns or prayers that are meaningful for each particular language group or culture.
  • Translate the worship service through visual or audio help (personal headsets).
  • Use two different sermons based on the same Scriptures, delivered by one or two preachers in different languages.

 

David Hoonjin Chai finished his 16 years of service with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a national staff for Asian American Leadership of the General Assembly Mission Council in 2010. For the last two decades he has been actively engaged in teaching and preaching nationwide on the topics of leadership, Christian Education, and Church Renewal.

He currently serves as Founder/Chair of the Confluence Institute, a ministry of Church leadership development.

In 2013, Rev. Dr. Chai was chosen as the first Korean-American “Educator of the Year 2013” by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE). Currently he is working with the Korean Central Presbyterian Church as stated supply pastor. He can be reached at hoonjinchai@
gmail.com