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Guidelines for Leading Worship in International Contexts

When the opportunity arises for North Americans to deliver an address or sermon to groups whose first language is not English  it will facilitate communication to keep a few guidelines in mind. This also applies to members of  European Unitarian Universalist (EUU). An increasing number of its members are not ex-pats, and many who are Americans or Canadians may not have lived in the U.S. or Canada in decades. The challenges in inter-cultural communication are multiple. Many will be challenged because English is not their first language; others will not be familiar with North American or Unitarian Universalist (UU) history; and one must assume that most are not familiar with current events in North America or its popular culture. The following suggestions are offered to make presentations more intelligible when speaking to people not from North America.   

When preparing a presentation for such a gathering:

  • Choose simple vocabulary.
  • Use simple sentence structure.
  • Keep it short, concise and to the point.
  • Avoid idioms (e.g. Are you out of your mind?) and acronyms (including UUA, GA and R.E.).  
  • Be careful when using popular cultural references or North American history (e.g. Ralph Waldo Emerson) and when you do provide context for the remark.
  • Be careful about the assumptions you make (i.e. that everyone agrees with you or knows what you are talking about).
  • Make “I” statements (people may mistakenly believe you speak with authority you do not have).

When delivering your presentation:

  • Speak slowly.
  • Articulate clearly (i.e. Do not swallow your words).
  • Leave pauses between major ideas.
  • Build in an even longer pause between sections (i.e For some it will take extra effort to follow and such breaks give their minds a chance to rest.)
  • If possible, stop periodically and ask if there is anything someone would like to have clarified. (This gives listeners a chance to request an explanation without having to admit s/he did not understand).
  • Leave a substantial time for questions and answers.   

(These guidelines were generously provided by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed who serves as the Unitarian Universalist Association's Ambassador to UU Fellowships in France, Holland, and Switzerland.)

For more information contact international@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, February 21, 2014.

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