In 2004 Trinity called Pastor Alem (Alemseged Asmelash). Alem was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Sweden. He not only comes from the area of the world that many people in our neighborhood come from, he knows Scandinavian languages and culture. Both of these are natural connections to this congregation of Norwegian beginnings in this neighborhood of people from East Africa.
One of the first things we did when he came was to make our worship more inclusive. We began looking for hymns that are in English, Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia), and Tigrigna (the main language of Eritrea). We found ten.
After finding the hymns we translated several parts of the liturgy into Amharic and Tigrigna.
Once we had worked out the details of printing all three languages in the bulletin it was finally time for me to give it a try. I listened carefully and practiced speaking the words with Alem. He gave me pointers and assured me I was doing a great job. I was not reading the actual Amharic and Tigrigna, but together Alem and I had written all of the parts in our English alphabet.
The Greeting that we use at the beginning of the service is, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
And so I began. First, the Amharic, then Tigrigna, ending with the English so we would all know where we were at. I looked up and saw some appreciative nods. And several people giggling. The same giggles continued to happen in the weeks to come. But no one was saying anything.
Finally, one of the youth pulled me aside and others gathered around. He explained that I was saying one of the words in a way that gave it a rather different meaning than was intended.
The Amharic and Tigrigna word for ‘grace’ is ‘tsega.’ The problem was, the way I was pronouncing it made it sound like the word for ‘meat.’ I had been greeting the congregation with, “The meat of our Lord Jesus Christ…!”
Once I knew what I was actually saying I asked for help.
Me: “So, how do you pronounce it?”
Lidia: “No, tsega.”
Sam: “No. Tsega.”
It all sounded the same to me. The problem was that my ears could not even hear the difference. And, clearly there was one.
After a good laugh they assured me that everyone appreciated my feeble attempts and that I should continue.
However, it seems I will never pronounce a word central to Lutheran theology correctly in Amharic or Tigrigna. Each Sunday as I stumble through. I shudder to think what else I might be saying.
But, after all is said and done, Grace abounds.
I like to say we have an incarnational theology at Trinity.
© 2018 Copyright Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.