I (Emily) have done this in every congregation I’ve led in the past several years. I hope you find it a source of joy and celebration in your setting!
Celebrate diversity – Pentecost Style – with a reading of the Pentecost texts (Acts 2:1-21) in as many different languages as are represented in your congregation.
Step One: RECRUIT READERS
Every congregation has people from different backgrounds. Even congregations that are homogenous in skin color come from diverse cultural and linguistic groups.
Recruiting folks tends to be simple: If you know of anyone who speaks a language other than English, ask them to read these few lines from the Bible. The intimidation factor is low, as no one reader will necessarily read on their own. So, even if folks are just learning a language, or if they haven’t read it in years, this is an opportunity to share languages without a critical ear.
Be sure to include people of all ages: you’ve got Elders who grew up speaking one language at home and another at school; let them revisit their home language. You’ve got Youth and Children learning a language at school that they never get to use anywhere else; give them an opportunity to use it! You’ve got adults and young adults who have traveled; who immigrated; who are second-generation – honor these experiences!!
Step Two: FIND APPROPRIATE TRANSLATIONS
Some folx will have the Bible in their language. Some will not. For those who don’t the internet is a great tool. Bible Gateway offers translations from numerous languages: click “ALL” in the translations drop-down menu. If you don’t find what you need there, a simple google search may garner results. Otherwise, this might be an opportunity to reach out to elders in the community who may have the Bible you need. Think of the good conversations that could come from that!
Step Three: REHEARSE
This is one area where online worship is handy: each person can video themselves reading the text. If an Elder needs help with the tech, pair them up with a tech-savvy Youth and see if a relationship doesn’t develop (the Elder can teach about the language; the Youth can teach about the tech – mutually beneficial and respectful and interesting!!!)
Find a volunteer to compile the video. Many folx have the necessary software, these days. If this person doesn’t exist within your congregation, don’t be afraid to look without; it’s another opportunity to develop relationships!
If meeting in-person, rehearse once just prior to worship.
Step Four: HERE’S HOW IT GOES:
Ask the person reading in English to announce the reading, i.e., “A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Second Chapter.” and then begin reading the text through. Once they have read the first sentence in English, start adding a new language/reader every few words, until all the languages are a raucous jumble of Holy Word.
[If meeting in person: As they begin to read, invite readers to process from the back of the worship space to the front, so that by the end of the reading there are readers either standing across the front or surrounding the congregation in all their linguistic diversity. No one needs a microphone.]
At the height of the reading (right around when the drunken accusation is made), the voices should be at their loudest and most incoherent. This is a good thing! This was the experience recorded in this very reading: everyone who spoke a language heard their language, but the assembled crowd also just heard a jumbled mass of linguistic confusion. The Spirit will make sense out of it (if need be)!
Step Five: SHARE IN WORSHIP
I recommend sharing this reading as a Call to Worship: let the Greeting and Announcements (if shared at the outset) precede this, but otherwise, let this be how folks are welcomed into worship time and space.
Let it be loud and boisterous – take cues from the story: if folks thought the apostles were drunk, they probably weren’t mumbling in diverse languages under their breath.
Refer to the confusion, chaotic feeling, unease, joy, harmonious or disharmonious voices in prayers, liturgical pieces, sermon, and songs: now that the congregation has experienced it, let the experience sink in. This is a practice in diversity and good for us to embody and reflect upon with intention.
You might conclude your worship service with a sending that incorporates as many of the same languages as possible. Translate a simple phrase like, “Go in peace.” for each Reader and invite them all to record and share or, if in person, stand and surround the congregation again, to bookend the service time in diversity.
Step Six: HONOR, CELEBRATE & CITE
Be sure to respect the time and offering of each reader by including their name and the language they read in your worship folder or citation screen at the conclusion of worship. Be sure, too, to cite the translations used to give appropriate copyright and other credit.
You might also honor and celebrate this diversity by highlighting your readers (those who are willing) in a diversity discussion during fellowship/coffee time or a study time. Let this be a chance to share stories about why each language was shared, the history of how the language is known, etc. These stories will be rich and transformative for your community!
Let Pentecost be a celebration of the diversity that God is drawing into Beloved Community!!