Beloved

Recently I was singing for a Protestant church service, and particularly noticed the way the congregants were addressed by the minister during the liturgy. At several points he addressed them as “Beloved,” or “Beloved in Christ.” I was still thinking about this form of address later that afternoon in my ward’s Sacrament Meeting, when the first speaker stood up and said “Sisters and…, I mean, Brothers and Sisters.” Leaving aside for now (with a heavy sigh) the distressing implications about gendered priority implicit in that little stumble, I wanted to think about what difference it might make in our thinking to have the congregation addressed in these different ways.

For me, at least, it makes a difference whether I regard someone as a brother or sister, or whether I am explicitly reminded that they are “beloved” children of God, that we are, all and each of us, “beloved in Christ.” It is easy to think of “brothers and sisters” or “sisters and brothers” (as my magnificent Dad always begins his talks) as family, as peers, as people to whom we are bound, but who sometimes annoy us, sometimes get annoyed by us, who are just muddling along with us. I’d like to think that I would do better at Christlike love for the people in the pews beside me if I were always reminded first of Christ’s love for them. Of course I can and should remind myself.

We Mormons may not have much in the way of formal liturgy, but at least we have the quasi-canonical words of C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.

Oh, remember.

Comments

  1. Kristine says:

    And don’t worry–I’m planning a series of nasty, contentious posts for next week to make up for being all cantwealljustgetalong this week.

  2. …I wanted to think about what difference it might make in our thinking to have the congregation addressed in these different ways.

    In the long run, I doubt it would do much.

    I mean, the implications of “brothers and sisters” (or the reverse) are, when you dissect them, pretty much the same as those for “beloved” (unless you want to make the case that unconditional love, mutual support, and descent from the same loving parents are no longer the ideals/norms within modern family units, which I don’t believe is the case [yet]).

    The problem (IMHO) isn’t the words we use; it’s that we often just don’t think about them anymore. I imagine that some non-Mormons might be struck by our practice of referring to each other as our siblings, and wonder why their own congregations eschew such powerful terminology in favor of frequent sprinklings of the long-since-meaningless “beloved”.

  3. Kristine says:

    Jim, I mostly agree. I meant it more as a thought experiment than a practical proposal. I do think you’re right about familiarity obscuring meaning.

  4. I’ve often wondered, too, about using such forms of address with those not of the Church. If a Mennonite called you Brother, it might be a little odd but acceptable. I’m tempted to branch out because of this post, both at church and away.

  5. Bruce Johns says:

    When Joseph Smith was asked how to refer to him he said something to the effect of “Brother Joseph will do”. ….. good enough for him/good enough for me.
    With respect to the good protestant minister…those people are paying his salary. You can’t blame him for hamming it up a bit.

  6. Kristine says:

    Actually, he wasn’t hamming it up–it’s a set part of the liturgy. And yes, Joseph certainly preferred low church forms to high. I’m not sure there’s a doctrinal reason for that preference.

  7. Jim D., I’m not sure that I’m willing to agree that people in other traditions don’t ever take their religious language seriously. I might also suggest that the Mormon Sister/Brother talk gets pretty pro forma from time to time. But there’s something wonderful in reminding ourselves where our sister- or brotherhood comes from, that we’re siblings in Christ specifically.

    Kristine, thanks for the call to charity. I needed this.

  8. Whenever I hear someone say, “Brothers and Sisters,” I always expect it to be followed by, “ALO-HA!”

  9. Mark IV says:

    Kristine, your statement from Lewis reminds me of this one from Brigham Young:

    When I look at the faces of people, I look at the image of our Creator. When I behold one of the images or likenesses of our Creator, I behold more or less of His character by the manifestations and the influences of the spirit that is in man. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth it understanding.” There is none without a spirit; this spirit is from heaven, and when we look at each other we behold, more or less, the power that is in Him who created and brought us forth, and who sustains all things.

    JD 11:321

    Before we start accusing protestants of hamming it up, let’s work on our own insincerity in the use of brother and sister. Ideally, those terms foster a sense of kinship, but sometimes we use them to create distance, e.g. “Let’s get something straight, brother…..”, “Well, sister X, bless your heart, you obviously don’t know…..”

  10. molly bennion says:

    “Sisters and brothers,” however familiar, merits more of our attention and your post is a good prod. But I wish we would confine it to the group address. I think it puts distance between us one on one and would much rather be Molly than Sister Bennion, especially when I don’t even dream as Bennion, my husband’s name after all. President and Bishop similarly are overused, impersonal and a bit distant when a first name would better establish our ultimate equality and a warm and mutually respectful working relationship.

  11. Molly, how do you feel about “Sister Molly”? I love the Brother/Sister Firstname combination. My preference is probably reinforced by the southern convention of calling people “Miss Ann” or “Mr. Left” when you know them but not well, or when you know them well but they are your elders.

    My husband received an invitation to a fireside from the leader of our stake’s multicultural fellowship group, and it was addressed to “Beloved.” The writer is a convert who was a former Baptist preacher.

  12. Jim Donaldson says:

    The ‘beloved’ is a very old tradition. Remember the English Book of Common Prayer traditional wedding service, which begins, “Dearly Beloved…”?

  13. molly bennion says:

    Ann, When I lived in Houston, I sometimes heard “Sister Molly,” a sweet reminder of a better part of Houston’s southern past, one I can understand your liking, but I confess this old Yankee prefers the first name alone in most settings.

  14. I agree with Molly. I’d much be known by my own first name than by Sister “my husband’s last name.” I’m quite a bit older than many of the folks in my ward, though, and even those that I’ve asked to call me by my first name, won’t.

    When I moved to North Texas as a newlywed 34 years ago, our bishop addressed us as “Beloved” quite often. As I think about it now, however, I realize that usually when he began with that salutation, we were about to be chastised. It’s interesting to me that although I’ve had many bishops since then, this first one is still one of the most beloved by me.

  15. It’s all euphony, Kristine. “Brothers and Sisters” trips more effortlessly from the tongue than the reverse, and that, not the primacy of one sex over the other, explains the usual order. It doesn’t, of course, explain the “correction” made by the speaker in your ward.

    If you want a counter-example, go down to the corner Pop and Mom store. :-) Should I get annoyed that Mom always gets the first mention at the corner store?

    Same with cats and dogs. Frankly, I have as much use for cats as they have for us humans–not much. But they always get mentioned first. That irritates me. And it irritates my usually even-tempered, man’s best friend, dog.

    As do peas. What have carrots done wrong that they always get second billing?

  16. I love my current stake president. He signs all his e-mails with his first name – or just his first initial when he is in a hurry. I generally address others by their first name in church. It just feels more personal. Sometimes, however, Brother or Sister just feels right.

    The branch president in the little unit we attended recently used Brother Ray and Sister Michelle all the time. It brought back the fond memories of living in Alabama, as others have said.

  17. Our bishop, who is a stickler for formality (and who eschews faux formality), always refers to priesthood holders in PH opening exercises as “Gentlemen”. He says it sounds better.

  18. Researcher says:

    My husband and I had a good acquaintance a few years back with whom we worked rather intensively on some community issues. He was Quaker. He would start every email, “Dear Friends…” It always gave us a bit of a jolt.

  19. Researcher says:

    And you’ve probably heard the old joke about how the Danish Saints in Sanpete County would address the congregation [something like]: Brudern and Sistern.

  20. Mark B. says:

    Problem is, Researcher, that John McCain has destroyed “Friends” as a term of address for the whole country, at least until a few weeks after the first Tuesday in November, after which he’ll recede into anonymity. When he says “my friends” through clenched teeth, I somehow don’t feel all warm and fuzzy.

  21. CatherineWO says:

    I wish we would all just call each other by our firt names. Isn’t that what most brothers and sisters do? Titles are just that–titles. They put some people above other people in power and status.
    First names belong to and define the individual (not the family or the spouse). Though the family unit is key in Mormon doctrine, I believe that ultimately, we are judged as individuals, and that’s how I want to be defined in the here and now.

  22. CatherineWO says:

    Correction: of course, I meant “first” names.

  23. We used to be the “missionary family” in a ward and would have assorted elders and sisters over a couple times a week. As a convert, I’ve always hated “Sister TAG” so I would tell the missionaries to call me by my first name. Of course they never did.

    Well, almost never. We were at a ward party, and a missionary came up and said, “Hi, Christine,” and I said to the bishop, who was next to me, “Bishop! Did you hear what that elder called me? I’ll let YOU take care of this,” and I walked away. The bishop said, “Elder . . . .” in an ominous tone and the poor elder’s jaw was dropped, “But, but, but.” Ha ha ha. (I’m sure I made it up to him with a chocolate pie or something. And the bishop had a good sense of humor, the elder didn’t really get in trouble.)

  24. Researcher says:

    Mark B (20). So at this point in American history, would even a Quaker’s use of the term “Friends” be seen to have political overtones?

  25. Cynthia says:

    One of my favorite “stop motion” moments occurred when a high councilor, who is a friend of mine and calls me “Cyn” spoke from the pulpit and said the following:

    “I am sure that Sister Cyn will make a great Young Women’s President.”

    There was an audible gasp because people heard, “I am sure that Sister Sin will make a great Young Women’s President.”

    I laugh about that gaffe all the time!

  26. Kristine, I think these lovely musings dovetail beautifully with Lisa’s post on the holiness of the body temple.

  27. Jim D., I’m not sure that I’m willing to agree that people in other traditions don’t ever take their religious language seriously.

    I hope that’s not how my post came off, for it wasn’t my intent.

    My point was merely that in some non-Mormon congregations, “beloved” may have become as routine and meaningless as “brothers and sisters” has become in some Mormon congregations.

  28. merrybits says:

    And yes, Joseph certainly preferred low church forms to high.

    I’m gratified to read this. A while ago, when I had to contact Pres. Packard’s office, I was informed that any correspondence sent to the good president must certainly be addressed “President Packard.” I’m glad Joseph didn’t feel the need to ride such a high horse.

  29. JimD, that much more careful and explicitly even-handed statement is one that I fully agree with. Thanks for the clarification!

  30. I think Brothers and Sisters just flows off the tongue a little easier. However, that might just be because it is so entrenched in Mormon culture…

    I like the idea of using “Beloved…” Sounds more New Testament-ish or something.

  31. StillConfused says:

    I don’t like being called Sister Whatever. I equate that with age or something. Just call me by my first name and be done with it. Or you can call me Mom. I answer well to that one too.

  32. Kristine, nice thoughts. And I completely agree with you on unconscious slips that reveal priorities for one gender or another. You might be right about this one (and heaven knows there are others), but then in fairness you have to take into account “ladies and gentlemen…”

    Maybe your point is that the Brothers and Sisters happens in a Mormon context, and the other outside the Mormon context. But I’m not sure the other necessarily gives women any priority…

  33. Actually, I wish we would drop the ‘Brother/Sister’ thing altogether. I think it sound utterly ridiculous. I especially hate it when a Sacrament meeting speaker refers to his/her spouse as Brother/Sister so and so. That is just plain stupid. And incestuous.

  34. Kristine says:

    Craig, I agree. If “Brothers and Sisters” were the only suggestion of sexism in church practice, it would not be a compelling bit of evidence. :)

  35. Chad Too says:

    Ray,
    FWIW, here in my southern stake I have always insisted on being referred to as Brother Chad by my peers. Even my Stake President calls me that. It feels so much more familiar and friendly.

    Of course, referring to someone familiar as Mr. Firstname or Miss Firstname is a long honored southern tradition and judged with respect around here.

    If I ever move out of the South (are you kidding? there’s snow up there!) I will probably take this tradition with me.

  36. I know having to call people “Brother or Sister, is a big turn off for non-member. It says I am an insider, you are not. I think it should be dropped, it closes the group instead of opening it.

  37. When I was serving in the primary, the married women were called “Sister + last name” and we unmarried women were called “Sister + first name.” It was not intentional and it was definitely weird.

  38. Carlos U. says:

    For me, “Beloved” sounds Middle Eastern… which it is. It comes from Habib, or Habibi, literaly, “beloved”. It is used between lovers, but also amongst close friends. Then again, when I hear “Peace be uppon you”, I hear “Salaam a-Alekum”, or “Shalom”. Don’t forget, these were Middle Easterners, mainly.

  39. I work with the young men in the ward and almost all of them call me by my first name. Only one family in the ward insists on their son not using my first name when addressing me. Back when I was younger, we were always taught to call our leaders Brother so and so rather than using their first name. So regarding youth and adults, I wonder if a cultural shift has occured, or was I just raised old fashioned?

  40. When I first was introduced to the church, my piano teacher was the only person who I knew in California who was LDS. As my teacher, she asked to be called Mrs. H. When I was finally allowed to joined the church, she encouraged me to call her Sister H. The day I received my endowment, she announced that I had reached adulthood and invited me to call her by her first name. She is such a delightful woman, but much more formal than I was or ever will be.

    In general I don’t feel closer when I call someone by a title, even if that title is supposed to remind me of our common Father.

  41. I have been grateful for the Sister/Brother designation, if only to bail me out when I have forgotten a Primary child’s given name (but not surname) during Sharing Time. :|

    Kristine, I think you’re right that Brother/Sister does not call forth the same emotion/devotion as “Beloved” of Christ. Maybe that’s for the good, since we (or maybe I) barely meet the criteria for acceptable sibling-ness as it is. It’s the rare Church speaker who could invest this title with the sincerity it warrants.

  42. cahkaylahlee says:

    One of the first things I thought of is that President Hinkley used “beloved” frequently. I searched Google for the phrase “my beloved brethren and sisters” and this is the first page that came up.

    Maybe I’m just weird, but as a 20-something without kids, I like the Brother/Sister title. It reaffirms my adult capabilities and responsibilities. It also differentiated me from the young women I was supposed to be in charge of.

    One of my Latin profs at BYU called everyone Ms. or Mr. Lastname. Everyone I talked to loved it because it was respectful, nerdy, and put everyone on equal footing. When I found out Miss Miller was one of my friend’s roommates, it was hard to call her by her first name. One of the things that I noticed at other universities is that the professors and secretaries don’t treat students like adults, so the students don’t feel obligated to behave like adults. Perhaps I’m missing other cultural differences, but that was my sense.

  43. Jim Donaldson says:

    I hereby resolve to start calling people at church ‘Sister Firstname” and “Brother Firstname” more. I like it. And it if is truly a southern tradition, maybe the cooking in the ward will improve.

  44. My point was merely that in some non-Mormon congregations, “beloved” may have become as routine and meaningless as “brothers and sisters” has become in some Mormon congregations.

    This past year, as I was living in Lagos Nigeria and I really missed my scripture study discussion group in Texas, I joined a local (mostly expatriate) Bible study group. I really enjoyed the group as we worked through several studies. Our studies were mostly packaged Bible study programs with a video segment and study manual. The one that REALLY bugged me was the program where the video study leader was constantly addressing her audience using “Beloved,” and “Dear One,” and “Precious One.” It was just a bit much for me. I don’t need someone who doesn’t know me trying to remind me that I’m someone special. Maybe it feel different if it was someone like a bishop who was acquainted with those to which he was speaking. But I found it very annoying.

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    I generally use first names. I work closely with the 2C in the stake presidency in my calling, and he has told me how much he appreciates me doing that; he gets tired of being called “President X” all the time, and to his ears the use of the first name bespeaks friendship.

  46. Thanks Kristine for this thought provoking post. As a convert, I found Sister/Brother titles bizarre, but like many oddities of Mormon culture, (such as hieing to Kolob), I have come to love it. At the same time, I have known some people who have found it as a distancing tool, such as a woman who lamented that nobody called her by her first name, or another who noted that younger (women in their thirties) often called each other by their first names, but saw her sister title as a designation of age. I like the reminder that all are beloved of in Christ and might use some kind of Mormonized hybrid next time I speak.

    P.S. Overheard in our car last week, as one child practiced his Primary talk aloud on the way to swimming lessons:

    Eli: “Good Morning, Sisters and Brothers …”
    Jacob: “Sisters and Brothers!!?? Who says that?”
    Eli: “I guess Mom does, she typed my talk”

  47. Kristine says:

    :) A good cautionary tale, perhaps: don’t name your daughters Kristine (with a K) or they’ll turn out uppity!

  48. I should add that I generally call people by their first names unless, after I have done so, they continue to refer to themselves as Brother or Sister so-and-so and call me Brother, as well. In that case, I honor what appears to be their wish and call them Brother or Sister whatever.

  49. guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    B. Johns, #5: do you have the reference-citation for that?
    ‘Not that I’m doubting’, but….
    so many/much of quotes are false/exaggerated/passed along & lose accuracy…
    Thanks

  50. I like this cantwealljustgetalong post. It is nice to be reminded to see the divinity in the people around us.

    I also like the title beloved, but (unfortunately) my strongest association is with that Prince song. Dearly beloved, we are gathered today to get through this thing called life.

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