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Though we are one we are many March 23, 2020

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This particular church building is where 25 years ago I attended both the smallest and largest communion service. The physically present congregation was just me but the Anglican priest presiding over the service stuck to the liturgy and so I read out loud, “Though we are many we are one body”.

It was of significance for me then, and again in these strange times of social distancing and virtual church. After appreciating the irony for a moment it dawned on me that I was not alone. Though I was one, I was part of the many. Countless millions were gathering that day around the world and sharing in variations of the same practice. Some doing so in large crowds, others in buildings no bigger than the one I was in, some in secrecy, some in solitude, but we were, and are all one body – the church.

You may have heard it before, the church is the people not the building. This particular building like many others will be empty now. The small chapel, despite it’s Mediterranean look, is in in England, at a Butlin’s holiday centre in Minehead, that at this time of year usually hosts Spring Harvest, an annual gathering of thousands of Christians packed together for a mix of singing, sermons, and seminars.

After Easter it would normally switch into full holiday mode, with up to 10,000 holiday makers at a time. (I worked at Butlin’s as a student, and for several years after, and it was there I became a Christian).

Neither, Spring Harvest not the holiday season is happening this year. When the Covid crisis has passed, many who are used to meeting in churches will have learned some new lessons about worshipping without walls, and many others will have encountered God through through conversations with neighbours at a distance of 2 metres (or latest advice), and via online communities where distance is less important.

However distant you feel from others today, you are not alone.

Photos in this post have been adapted from https://davedoeshistory.wordpress.com/2019/08/12/butlins-minehead-the-smallest-cutest-little-chapel-in-england/

The phrase “though we are many” comes from the Church of England Communion service, and in turn from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1Cor17:10

All   Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.

How do you say “Wash your hands” in enough languages? March 16, 2020

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(Updated March 25)
There are over 7000 languages in use on the planet, and probably more than you thought spoken in your own community. Despite the pandemic it might not be necessary to say “wash your hands” in every single one of them. The aim would be to say it in a language that people understand regardless of whether it is the one they most identify with. But, it might also help to personalise and drive home the message if you do use people’s first language, so here are a few translations, links to a few more, and then some comments as to why even this simple phrase isn’t as easy to translate as you might think!

  • English – Wash your hands
  • French – Lavez-vous les mains
  • Polish – myć ręce
  • Welsh – Glanhewch eich dwylo
  • Dutch – handen wassen
  • Czech – Umyjte si ruce
  • Malay – Basuh tangan anda
  • Russian – Помойте Ваши Руки
  • Tok Pisin – Wasim han bilong yu

I’ve taken these from a few trusted sources and where possible have checked them by seeing how Google translates them back into English. (Google often does quite a good job between an increasing number of languages). Please do add other languages in the comments section on this blog or when shared on social media).

The Minisota department of health has a poster created in 2010, which says wash your hands in 24 languages (English, Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Karen, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Nepali, Oromo, Ojibwe, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, and Vietnamese).

PDF poster available at https://www.health.state.mn.us/people/handhygiene/wash/languages.html

I’m hoping that having been around for ten years that any errors have been found and corrected. It replaces an older version in just 18 languages.

Once I’d found that list Google decided I’d also be interested in this list with 80 different languages. I hope they are all accurate but I can’t be sure. https://www.indifferentlanguages.com/words/wash_hands

Meanwhile, http://bible.com/ and http://www.bible.is/ might have the phrase in up to 1600 languages between them as part of a Bible verse.

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

James 4:8 NLT

As so many people are being told to keep their distance from others I like that this starts off by reminding us that God doesn’t want us to keep our distance from him. Even the bit where the writer is calling people sinners, comes across as harsh it’s worth noting that this was written to people who already considered themselves to be Christians. The writer is urging them to recognise their problem and do something not condemning them.

The much older King James version phrases it as:

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

James 4:8

However the Contemporary English version translates it as:

Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you people who can’t make up your mind.

James 4:8 CEV

All are valid translations providing you recognise that the original meaning wasn’t about hand hygiene and reducing the spread of a virus.

In the Éwé language the verse is translated as:

Mite ɖe Mawu ŋu kpokploe eye eya hã atsɔ ɖe mia gbɔ. Mi nu vɔ̃ wɔlawo miklɔ miaƒe asiwo, eye mi ame siwo nye dzime eve susulawo la miklɔ miaƒe dziwo me.


I did’t know which bit is about hand washing so I thought I’d see if Google could help by translating it back into English. Sadly Éwé isn’t one of the languages Google recognises and suggested the text might be in Igbo or Yoruba, offering me a translation of the phrase from those languages as “Mite Threatened Birds are very popular. If you have heard me say it, my eye will give it to my dzime eve.

Getting the best translation involves understanding the meaning of the message in the language you are translating from and understanding the language and culture of the person you are trying to communicate to.

If you don’t speak the language then just pulling the verse off the web and making a best guess as to which bit of it might say “wash your hands” won’t always give you the results you want.

That “best guess” gets better and the process can be quickly repeated with the aid of sophisticated machine learning that runs multiple checks to identify and compare the use of words in a larger body of text. This, together with collaborative input from people around the world has enabled the phrase to be quickly translated or identified in 273 languages (as of March 25) with many more on their way and an invitation for people to submit the phrase in missing languages.

“Wash your hands” in Éwé, is apparently “mi klɔ asi”.

As Ethnologue’s article highlights, “Wash your hands”, while a vital and key message, isn’t enough on it’s own to combat the pandemic but in making that one phrase available they are both highlighting the need for yet more information and promoting new resources that are already being translated.

explore the map, share the list, and help spread the message

Find out more and as the article concludes, “Spread the word, not the virus.”

Segregation, Diversity and the church March 5, 2020

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With a shrinking congregation and a changing neighbourhood the pastor of a once large church sent teams door to door to invite new people. But something was puzzling.

“Every time they gathered to invite new people to church, the pastor sent them a few miles west of their present neighbourhood, to the newly developing suburbs …populated by people of the same race and class”

This was 1990 and as the church members worked out what was happening they had mixed reactions. Their community had changed vastly over the previous decades. The pastor was following what he believed to be the logical conclusions of a mission strategy known as the homogenous unit principle, the simple idea that churches grow faster if everyone in them looks and sounds the same. Eventually he went on to recommend that they sell their building and move to the new white neighbourhood.

The free preview of Michael O. Emerson’s “People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States” I stumbled across on Google books came to an end just as the church was voting on this decision.

How diverse is your own church? How would they have voted? This certainly isn’t just a US issue. Despite decades of discussion within the Church of England, reports constantly suggest there is still plenty of division and institutional racism in the UK Church as well as wider society. This isn’t just about overt attitudes and comments but also more subtle discrimination and lack of awareness.

A video presented to the General Synod of the Church of England a few years ago covered some of the issues.

Moving from race to language my own research suggests that many people assume that providing people speak English ‘well enough’ language isn’t an issue (see section on #multilingualchurch).

If you are wondering what happened at Wilcrest Baptist Church the current facebook page of the church may be a spoiler.


How diverse does your church look and sound compared to your local community?

Here are a few resources from the UK to explore:

…and if you are still reading, here’s a quote and a song from South Africa

In my nation South Africa, we have 11 official languages. English happens to be our lingua franca even though it’s a second language to the majority of the population. In our context when we refer to multi cultural worship we often mean people from different cultures and ethnicities worshiping together in English. I don’t think this is wrong, I just think it’s safe. It’s like painting with the same colour over and over again when you have a pallet with an assortment of colours at your fingertips.

Langa Mbonambi

2000+ Bible versions online February 1, 2020

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Remembers this?

Back in 2014 YouVersion celebrated the 1000th version of the Bible made available via their apps and website.

The 1000th language was reached two years later in 2016

Then in October 2019 they announced that they’d passed the 2000th version.
(they didn’t use the same graphic so I adapted the first one)

I don’t know how quickly the next 1000 versions will be added but they are already in progress, and the 2000th language is a target I’d love to see reached either this year or next.
At the start of 2020 YouVersion was supplying 2023 versions in 1371 languages. (follow the links to see the full lists and encourage your church to link to online Bibles and apps from their websites and social media)

Meanwhile the number of languages in which a full Bible or New Testament exists is 2250, with over 1100 having at least some portion completed. Some are already in digital format and either online elsewhere or in line to be added. Others are older copies that need tracking down and a complex process of scanning and either digitising by optical character recognition (OCR) and extremely careful proofreading or rekeyboarding and processing.
So pray that it won’t be too long before we can celebrate the next major milestones, remembering that each new version and each new language added is a cause of celebration to those who can finally access scripture for themselves.

Bible Translation: 2000 languages in a generation December 31, 2019

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In 1959 an article in Christianity Today reported that “1,127 languages have now received the Scriptures either in whole or in part”. It also spoke of a “Call To Prayer And Special Effort To Reach 2,000 Bibleless Tribes In This Generation”. 

Ambitious goals like this aren’t (and weren’t) new. This one has now been reached. The total number of languages with some scripture reached 2133 at the end of 1997. The next thousand had something published over the next 19 years.

“Some scripture” is a great start. Back in 1959 the number of languages with the whole Bible was 215. In 2020 that figure will reach 700 and the total number of languages in which some scripture exists will pass 3400.

Some other great things have been happening in the last decade. And I’ll write about them in 2020.

Ancient Bible text discovered in Birmingham December 19, 2019

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Sometimes all you have to do is Google, at other times finding old translations takes a little more digging and knowing the right person to ask.

I’ve had a copy of Kate Fletcher’s Gospels in Black Country Dialect (as spoken in parts of the West Midlands, England) for a while now. It was originally published in 1986 but some research (I googled) just uncovered an older retelling of the Christmas story…

“Yo’m gooin ter av a babby,” said the angel.

That shook er, and er looked at im an said: “Doh be saft. I ay marrid.”

“That do mek no difference,” ee answered. “If God says yo’ll av a babby, yo’ll ava a babby, yo will an that’s it. Yo’ve got ter call im Jesus.”

Michael Prescott, 1968, reprinted 2013, expressandstar.com/news/2013/12/25/have-yourself-a-bostin-christmas/

The script has since been recorded in the local dialect and made available on Vimeo.

As with a number of colloquial retellings there is a certain amount of interpretation in the story. It was the work of someone from outside the community, a Londoner, who used to get children in his church Sunday school to tell stories from the Bible in their own words.

Geoff Broadway, Kate Jackson, Alex Williams, Juanita Williams
Commissioned as part of ‘Where’s Our Spake Gone?’ project.

The Bible translations many of my friends and colleagues assist in go through many stages of drafting and checking to ensure that they stay true to the meaning of the original text while bringing the story alive.

Each year new groups hear it for the first time in their own language, while others discover texts and videos that have been around for a while, but which they never knew existed.

a more radical welcome November 11, 2019

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There is an old English idiom about sending someone to Coventry, which basically means to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. In contrast Coventry Cathedral has a great welcome notice. It’s about welcoming all kinds of people including those who might not always feel they are accepted in church. This has been shared on multiple facebook pages and church noticeboards, and inspired our friend and former pastor, Steve Latham to suggest that the “scandalous extremism of the gospel ” should challenge the church to be even more radical.

The original list includes “those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, questioning, well-heeled or down at heel.” It does include those who are “just got out of prison” along with the “just browsing” and “just woken up” and sneaks in “those who are in recovery or still addicted” along with “tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.”

Steve, asks would your church put up a welcome signs like this:

“We welcome murderers and thieves, racists and rapists. We welcome human traffickers, white supremacists, and pornographers; even bankers and hedge fund managers. We welcome the child abuser as well as the abused, the drug pusher besides the addict; the unreconstructed male chauvinist, along with the TERF.”

Steve goes on to ask, “What church would actually want that kind of people attending? The safeguarding issues alone would be horrendous.”
Read Steve’s full post here.

As part of my MA research I visited many church websites and spotted that nearly all had a prominent link to their safeguarding policy (definitely something to be commended as long as it’s taken seriously), but that very few had links to an online Bible such as Bible.com or Bible.is (which between them have scripture and other resources in over 1600 languages).

Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised at a plug for helping those marginalised, through no fault of their own, by language. That’s been my job and my passion for the last 23 years. But there are others who are marginalised in society by a past (or present) that has put them on the wrong side of the law, people who know that they have fallen. Stephen Dailly (we know a few Stephen), has written a book from his experience of working with released prisoners. It’s a book that isn’t blind to challenges for the congregation as well as the released prisoners. You can read a sample of the book on Amazon which may be enough to prompt you to buy a copy and pray that at least one church in your community (maybe your own) will be radical enough and well prepared enough to really welcome anyone.

Giving voice to the voiceless? May 24, 2019

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Theresa May has just delivered her resignation speech. Several quotes caught my ear and then my eye (full text now online).

Regardless as to how well you feel she or others in power have used their platform to “give a voice to the voiceless” or to “fight the burning injustices that still scar our society”, pray that current and future leaders in the UK and around the globe would see this as part of their role.

It’s not just their role. Whatever platform you have, be it the pulpit, the classroom, lecture hall, office, or even the internet use it well.

May went on to talk about funding for mental health, support for survivors domestic abuse, the Race Disparity Audit, gender pay reporting, and the inquiry into Grenfell Tower.

I googled for the Race Disparity Audit and it’s worth reading (not just for my MA).

As she ended the speech she stated:

“this country is a Union. Not just a family of four nations. But a union of people – all of us. Whatever our background, the colour of our skin, or who we love. We stand together. And together we have a great future.”

As I explore attitudes to language(s) in the church it is clear that there is much to do (and learn about) in so many other areas and that politics and public opinion comes into it all.

We will definitely have different opinions on what the present looks like and what the future should look like, which is why I’m glad she didn’t claim in this speech to be the voice of the voiceless.

We each have a platform and it’s good to remember that whenever we have opportunity to speak we can also use that opportunity to listen.

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