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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Ask the Matriarch -- Say What Now?

Hello all – a Happy New Year to you -- welcome to our Thursday session – copious thanks to Songbird and earthchick for their instructions and advice on how this task is done – at the moment I’m very conscious of the tongues of fire playing about my hairline! 
Oh?  You mean you don’t DO tongues of fire in your congregation?  Our enquirer this week is also pondering a “we don’t do that there here” moment in the life of the church.  How do you respond when a new congregant’s devotional behaviour startles your congregation?
Hi there,  (and welcome to ATM, CR!)

We have a new-ish congregant who comes from a more conservative tradition.  In our small prayer group, she has at times manifested the gift of speaking in tongues.  Recently this gift was made manifest during a quiet time in a larger worship setting which was uncomfortable for many, including me.  I do believe that this is an  authentic gift of the spirit, but my tradition does not have a track record with expression of this particular gift in a public setting.  I'm not sure how to honor this gift and help create a safe space for its expression, while also honoring others’ desire for quiet time.  And, since it feels a little "out of control" compared to the spiritual expressions I'm used to, I'm not sure how to manage my own discomfort.

And we have one respondent this morning –

Muthah+ writes:

Dear Uncomfortable,

I understand your discomfort.  My tradition doesn't respond well to speaking in tongues either.  But in a small prayer group, it might be good to discuss this with the group.  You need to talk to your 'gifted one' first and explain to her how that manifestation of the Spirit is strange to your community.  If you are ok with it, then a majority of the folks in your group are going to be ok with it too.  Since you recognize it as an authentic gift, it might be good if you said as much to your group.  It can either be a learning experience or it can be a clear indication that the group is not up for it.  Also, it might be good when you talk to your tongues-speaker to ask her who is to interpret.  It is my understanding that tongues are always to be translated for the benefit of the community.  The most important thing is that your new member not feel that she is not wanted because of her manifestation of the Spirit. 


Thank you--especially for the reminder of the "most important thing"!  SO easy to forget.  Thinking about the effect of speaking in tongues in quiet time in a public setting – I recall a great actor telling our group that any one person can make a sound; but it takes the collaboration of a whole theatre – or church -- full of people to make a silence.
And there’s always the standard response to the non-comprehending or suspicious or hostile question: “what does she do that for?” “because she loves God very much…”
What do you think?  Other examples of this kind of experience?  How did your congregation respond to the stranger in their midst?  Please join our conversation in the comments section.
And once again the question-cupboard is bare -- help us out, here, by sending some more questions for the queue!  You can send questions to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. special additional thanks to the unparalleled MaryBeth Butler for patiently supplying what was needed to get this "up." Stars in your crown, friend!

  2. wow. I got nothing on this one, except trust your heart and gut as you pastor away.

  3. Sr. Miriam ElizabethJanuary 3, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    It also seems like part of the conversation on both sides could be Paul's instruction/admonition in Corinthians (and other places I think) that all gifts are to be used for the building up of the community, which frequently requires everyone to stretch a little. Much as we use it for other things, I think that is the entire point of 1 Cor. (12 and) 13. And, oh my, what a difficult conversation.

  4. Years ago, in a formal mainline congregation, I worshipped with a woman who claimed to see auras. For quite some time, it seemed harmless, until she began telling other members of the congregation that the pastor's aura was black and she could see Satan looming behind him. Real fear spread throughout the congregation and beyond, and a large part of the problem was that we simply didn't have the language to discuss such imagery. We tended not to speak of Satan but of evil, and when, suddenly, evil seemed personified, we were out of our depth.

    I think I might begin by telling her that: This is a new experience for us, we're out of our depth, and we want to make sure that everyone's understanding of this gift is accurate. Tell us more. Tell us the history of this. Tell us how YOU understand what God is doing and saying here. And then I might speak Paul's words about the body needing both eyes and ears, hands and feet — and yes (skipping around!), both speakers and interpreters, so that everyone knows that our other truths and experiences are still very much valued.

    But I also might take the opportunity, prayerfully and carefully, to discuss more publicly, "Do we really believe that God can and might and indeed will do new things that we are not able, initially, to understand? What will be our process for discerning what those things mean, and whether they're truly from God?"

  5. Has anyone heard from Singing Owl lately? If I remember correctly, her tradition is Assembly of God and she could help some of us mainline folks out with understanding and guidance for pastoral care with integrity for all concerned.

    Something Muthah+ said jogged a memory of someone else saying that when we are confronted with something that makes us uncomfortable we should approach with curiosity instead of fear.


  6. I'm trained in a more, um... VOCAL kind of ministry and worship. So here's my thoughts...

    You have an important task of teaching her AND the congregation how to accept, love, and worship together. I think this does require a conversation with your TSM (tongues-speaking member) separate from the group. You have two points of discussion...

    First, there is the scriptural one. From a scriptural standpoint, I Co 14 gets ignored a lot by people who do not have someone with the gift of interpretation. Paul says plainly, "no interpreter, don't do it." (The Deb version.) But I wouldn't use that as my main argument because she could then go wrassle up an interpreter. :o

    I think the better role is one of context and practice for your congregation. You don't doubt the veracity of her faith or her experience. But it doesn't make sense in the context where she is practicing it.

    I use this context idea with people and compare it to going to my grandmother's church where we would NEVER have been allowed to wear pants or jeans. Or a church I worshipped in that required women cover their heads. Context and practice varies so much in Christendom. I often share that because of my background, I'm frequently getting lost when you sit/stand/kneel in my Episcopal friends' churches -- but I don't insist on clapping and hollering "PRAISE GOD!" when I enjoy a rip-roaring piece of Bach. (Even though, in my heart, I am!) Out of respect for the regular practice, you accept that there are different styles and you give space to do it -- elsewhere.

    It's tricky because you get this "we don't DO things that way" response. And maybe you don't. But there are genuine, loving, God-serving people all around the world who do.

    I would invite her to pray with you -- just the two of you. Let her pray with her heart full of prayers. And then you do the same. You will pray differently, but you can accept a difference. That's where I'd start.

    1. thanks, Deb -- a valuable perspective, I think!

  7. It seems to me there is much ado about nothing.
    the main thing is to let everyone know God loves them
    so many are hungry and thirsty
    yet the church keeps discussing what seem tome to be extraneous matters.
    the real cause should be, in my opinion, healing

  8. I'm answering late, but feel I have some perspective, as I pray in tongues (one of God's surpise gifts to me - not something I sought...)

    You use the phrase "a little out of control" - but in fact tongues ought to be very much under control

    I agree with Deb's reading of 1 Cor 14 - both for the question of interpretation, and also with the goal of not "weirding out" guests. In the church I attend, we do not pray in tongues in the public service for that reason (though i'll admit to a little bit of "under my breath" prayer if it feels OK - often when there is music playing, so as not to risk breaking a silence). Invitations to "free" outloud prayer sometimes contain a reminder to "keep in brief, loud enough for everyone to hear, and in a language most folk understand so that we can all say Amen and mean it."

    Our small groups are different, as they are private, so its up to each small group to work out what to do - but I'd want to know that the other people in the group were OK with it before doing it.

    One issue may depend on the teaching your TSM has had up to now. My understanding and experience is that tongues as a form or prayer is entirely under the pray-ers concious control - so a person can choose to pray outloud or to keep silent. It would be interesting to discuss this with her - does she feel able to choose not to pray outloud every time wants to ? She has presumably chosen to come to your church for a reason - and this may be a trade-off that she needs to accept once it is drawn to her attention. (Several members of our congregation used to attend a Pentacostal chuch - they have by and large accepted that their reasons for leaving were more important that our moratorium on this form of prayer in the public service.)

  9. hello Alison-i-F; thank you from all of us for the benefit of your experience and perspective; very thought-provoking and encouraging.

    I recall a friend who long ago had the experience of speaking in tongues while a student at a convent boarding-school. The nun who was her spiritual director took her aside and identified what had happened as "God's given you a very special gift, a private language in which you can open your heart to him" -- which years and years later she (my friend) was still marvelling over for the comprehensive tact and kindness it displayed!

    1. What a wise nun !


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