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The time wus gerrin’ near fer the Sairvyer ter cum on airth. July 15, 2008

Posted by Andy in Reflections on Ministry.

I was recently lent a copy of ‘The Gospels in Black Country Dialect’, written by Kate Fletcher. The opening sentence, based on Matthew chapter 2 is written above. One of my favourite sections in the book is when Jesus gives the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5: “Blessid am them wot mourn fer thay’ll be cumfortid. Blessid am the meek fer thay’ll in’erit th’ airth. Blessid am them wot ‘unger an’ thairst after rychussniss fer thay’ll be satisfied…” The passage ends “Jesus tode ‘is dissiples wen ennybody wus crewel tew ’em or pairsekewtid ’em on accahnt of ‘im, not ter be sorry, but glad, cus thayer riwards in ‘Evv’n ‘ud be grairt. ‘E sed thay ‘udn’t be the’ onny ones ter be traytid ruff ‘cus the proffits of ode wor alliz traytid rite”.

Localised accents are fascinating because of the different pronunciations that people use to describe the same realities. Even within our own church we have a variety of accents and it’s always interesting to listen out for where different emphases are placed. Our recent Evening Service readings from Daniel are a case in point: is he pronounced “A-bed-ne-go” or “A-bed-naaaay-go”? Is it “Dar-eye-us” or “Da-ri-os”? Just a few weeks ago I attended a Commissioning service at the very impressive Westminster Methodist Central Hall and near to the reception area was a collection of various bookmarks with short sayings on them, representing over 25 different languages. My heart missed a beat contemplating what it must be like to preach effectively to a diverse range of nationalities, week-in week-out, many of whom may not share English as their dominant language.
When I was doing some reading during my College training, I came across a very interesting phrase: “The eternal Word of God only ever speaks in a local accent”. It was trying to convey the point that Jesus, God’s Word, is of such global importance that our preaching about him must be relevant to the many different contexts and places that preachers find themselves in. Abstract sayings or teachings about Jesus will only become meaningful when they are contextualised into different cultures – otherwise they are not a lot of use to anyone. The message of salvation remains the same but sometimes the method needs careful thought.