Church survey responses: should our Church switch to English?

May 25, 20131

by (19) 

english

A few weeks back, Britić launched a survey, which looks at why Church attendance has declined.

Around 60% of respondents so far wanted to add their own viewpoints in the optional “free speech” text box. No single factor leaps out as a panacea for the declining attendance there certainly is passion in many of the responses. It seems that not only are Serbs not united, we cannot even agree on the points in which we disagree.

You still have a chance to make your voice heard, it’s anonymous and takes just 2-3 minutes, just click here.

Will the switch to English mark a sea change in fortune?

Among the many reasons cited, the use of more English language was particularly divisive and we wanted to share some of the viewpoints that were shared. (We have anonymised all these responses.)

I’d say more English language in the service and, perhaps, better communication to the parish about events

Poboljsati crkveni website i jednostavnim rjecnikom objasniti osnovne pojmove (paralelno na engleskom).

Da sveštenici vrše Liturgiju i na Engleskom jeziku

More English during service for those who do not understand Serbian. And, more easily understood Serbian, rather than complex Slavic.

Others argued that how can the Serbian Orthodox Church be preserved without its unique facet, the language itself? Could watering-down the use of Serbian-language as being part of the problem, or just a pretext, rather than the solution:

Our Serbian Orthodox Church communicates in \’Serbian\’ therefore there is no need for the services to be in English or any other language, for years the services have been in Serbian. The main problem is the people’s attitudes.

Uvodjenje engleskog jezika u crkvu je samo jos jedan korak vise rasturanju nase zajednice i nase vere jer jezik i vera su sve sto imamo ovde u belom svetu daleko od nase domovine. Deci treba organizovati veronauku, price iz Jevandjelja, objasnjenja crkvenih rituala i slicno.

I don’t believe that introduction of English language will bring more people in as one of the biggest instances of our traditions actually is our language.

Education Education Education

Some asked how can we understand our faith and traditions if not in the language we speak, in English?

A better understanding of the faith and the traditions…This needs to be taught in English for the Church to survive

More English, catering for non Serbian-speaking Orthodox Christians…educating worshipers on each step of Holy Liturgy

This is also specifically cited for children born in the UK:

The Church school…presupposes that all children are fluent Serbian speakers, and English speakers are not catered for, the school does not teach the children spiritually as to the ways of the church and why we fast etc.

Possibly some of the service to be in the English language as we all live in the UK. Everyone, especially the younger generation, needs to be educated about the Church from the very beginning, covering everything from the origin of the faith to the church services, customs etc.

…there seems to be no interest in engaging English speaking children

It may sound strange, but for some second-generation Serbs, it is our religious education in Britain which helps us understand the Serbian Orthodox Church:

When I was young I attended an English Sunday school as my Church was 1 hour plus and three bus rides away from where I lived (not everyone had the luxury of cars in the 60s and early 70s!) When I did attend my own Church, it was still recognised and would be counted as attendance so I still received a regular attendance prize (much prized books!). As we all read from the same bible, the experiences/lessons from Sunday School later helped me to understand our own liturgies and readings from the bible. I can now recall/translate certain passages from the bible when our priest reads them in Serbian.

How can the Orthodox Church be Serbian only?

Some pondered the wider issue of whether true Christianity, universal from its outset, can ever be ‘nationalised’?

Isus je temelj crkve i hriscanske vere. Crkva ne moze biti nacionalna, Isus je spasitelj svih koji u njega veruju.

We need to be able to hear and understand what is being said – a microphone and speaker and in English please.

What of our non-Serb spouses?

Many (most?) British Serbs have fallen in love and married outside of our nationality. Hardly a surprise considering the multicultural society we live in. This adds another linguistic dimension in the fight for survival of our Church:

A lot of Serbs have English-only speaking partners/wives/husbands.

Some services in English – would certainly not need to drop Serbian, but would make it easier to engage with mixed families for example.

More e-communication and in English, Britic has filled a massive gap, more inclusion for mixed marriages…

Is our Church welcoming enough in either language?

Some felt alienated and squeezed out in a Serbian-only context:

English speakers are … unable to have an active part in the community due to the insistence that everything is not only in Serbian but also Cyrillic.

The church is over crowded and full of Serbs more recently from Serbia. This makes me feel unwelcome as a second generation Serb. They do not understand why I am not fluent and have chosen not to teach my children the language if their home country. However, that is not my home country. I love the religion and am a passionate Christian but because i do not speak the language i feel an outsider, even though I have spent most weekends of my childhood at the London church and Dom.

As an English speaking, 2nd generation Serb, I have always felt like an outsider in my own church. My grandmother used to take me to church as a child, but I never really felt like I fully understood how I should participate. I am embarrassed by my lack of understanding. I feel like I don’t belong, which is hard, because really, it is the only place I belong. Welcome us, and tell us what we are supposed to do and say.

And, of course, some contradiction to this view:

Novo pridosli iz rata 90-ih se ne osecaju dobro dosli i prihvaceni.

Can we take home a summary?

The view for more English-language seems to have won out, although advocates for retaining the Serbian status-quo might argue that such a conclusion is to be expected from a Britić survey. (We did include a Serbian-language survey which you can still take – click here.)

To my mind, even this article’s modest focus on one aspect (language) of one aspect (Church attendance) of our spiritual life in Britain has shown one thing among the mass of contradiction. We need to work together, young and old generations, Serbian and English speakers to find a path for us and for our children to preserve the most valuable thing Serbs were ever bestowed – our Church.

You can make a start by taking the survey:

You still have a chance to make your voice heard, it’s anonymous and takes just 2-3 minutes, just click here.

One Comment to “Church survey responses: should our Church switch to English?”
  1. Ljiljana Evans says:

    Yes – oratory skill of the priests are below standard. Preached topics often do not translate the messages in the Bible, or any spiritual points to current everyday examples – hence you lose connection with the audience; the whole subject remains abstract – when it should be inclusive and not exclusive. People are spoken to as if they brainless – I could barely stand the service one Christmas because of the way we were spoken to; Also I do not like the amount of politics covered during the service – in fact there should be none of it.Ah and how can I forget! I once I dropped by – stealing the time to make it(between studying and working part-time), dressed as if I went horse-riding (jacket/boots and all), when one of the clergy told me I was inappropriately dressed.This is the point I wanted to punch him and with him the whole church clergy.
    Firstly: I wasn’t indecent-it’s just not me, secondly: empty church, young person walks in, you should be happy I came; thirdly: the amount of times I’ve seen minis/decolletages @the church which I did find inappropriate style-wise mostly was numerous. And does God really care what we wear?
    All the above cut down my church attendance drastically to 1-2 annual cameo appearances. Displaced values were the ones that bothered me the most.The church was the place to mingle,dress up, make a social statement, rather than worship. All of it made me feel like Dostoyevsky’s idiot.

    My advice would be – up your game (oratory skills, make it current and pragmatic above all, kick out the politics and focus on the spiritual things that matter).
    During the service do what they do in opera : run translation of the service in English – but keep Serbian as the language of the service. With current technology should be fairly easy.
    I do not know if there are theological lessons that one could attend during the week at the church – as I might be interested.
    The church is not opened 24×7 and it really should be.

    That’s all I have.

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