Promoting belonging at church requires examining why certain people feel isolated and implementing more inclusive language.
Differences in ethnicity, heritage, profession, age, and many other characteristics are what make each community member unique, and this diversity has tremendous potential to cultivate meaningful connections between church members specifically. However, these differences can lead to feelings of isolation, and people may feel separate from the group if their circumstances are made to feel abnormal. To address this, we can emphasize inclusive language in our dialogue with others and ultimately better welcome those who may already feel they exist on the margins.
To promote Christ’s doctrine of inclusion, we need to first identify areas where we may be unintentionally exclusive, one area we can focus on is our use of language. Sister Betsy Vanderberghe outlines principles in her article “We Can Do Better: Welcoming Others Into the Fold” about how to include others and to identify people who may feel excluded. With these ideas in mind, we can aim for greater awareness and mindfulness in our language as an extension of inclusion.
- Conversations concerning mental health. We can recognize that there are distinctions among mental illnesses and a difference between serious health issues and simple feelings. Using terms such as “anxiety” and “worry” interchangeably can negate the experience of those with genuine health concerns. Instead, we can encourage members to be open about their struggles to normalize these types of trials while being mindful of the distinction between mental illness and the difficult moments we all experience.
- Discussions regarding marriage and family. As we discuss marriage and family at church, we can remember that everyone’s timeline for marriage and family looks different and that all individuals have a divine potential they are working towards. Asking people why they are not married yet or when they are going to have kids can often feel like an intrusion. They may even have serious trials and painful feelings associated with these events. We can focus on individual achievements and accomplishments of those who are single and be courteous when inquiring about aspects of their personal lives.
- Attitudes surrounding church activity. While striving for church attendance is a worthy goal, we can be mindful that there may be those who are struggling with attendance or who do not hold current temple recommends. Sister Vanderberghe states that “unsolicited advice feels like intrusion rather than inclusion” despite good intentions. These comments can cause offense and discourage further attendance.
The Savior himself said, “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This doctrine, though simple, is more than a feeling–it is a call to action. Jesus showed his love through his words and actions, especially to those who often existed on the margins of society. We too must reach out to those on the margins and ensure that the language we use fosters inclusion and Christlike love.
Read Sister Betsy Vanderberghe’s article, “We Can Do Better: Welcoming Others Into The Fold.”
—Cala Taylor, Latter-day Saint Insights
FEATURE IMAGE BY PEDRO LIMA
Find more insights
Read Camila Roldan’s Latter-day Saint Insights article “The Secret Behind Cultivating Inclusivity at Church: Charity” to learn more about why charity is instrumental in bringing communities together.
Take a look at the Latter-day Saint Insights article “We’re Better Together” by Heidi Knapp to learn more about the benefits of collaboration and cultivating a sense of community.