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.