Church folk use varying terms to describe themselves: parishioners and congregants. As a result, I have been asked to explain the difference between these two words often used interchangeably. In general terms, a parishioner lives in the immediate territory —a parish— corresponding to a house of worship. On the other hand, a congregant lives outside the territory but still attends worship. Therefore, the term congregant is broader.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took the descriptions further when they introduced a new worship hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, in 2006. The editors replaced the word congregation from the worship liturgy with the word assembly. Their explanation claimed most people understand congregation as synonymous with church, and worship wasn’t limited to a church building. An assembly of worshippers could occur outside a church, such as in schools, hospitals, chapels, and other public spaces. For this reason, the speaking parts for those gathered are now cued in the liturgy by the word assembly. I guess the church wants congregants to be comfortable congregating wherever they assemble. And don’t exclude the parishioners from the parish from joining the group.
The above silliness about church groups reminds me of a meme about a group of animals: “Did you know that a large group of baboons is called a congress? That explains a lot now, doesn’t it!” That famous group description, however, is incorrect. Instead, the grouping of baboons is called a troop. (Try a parliament of owls if you must make a political connection with animals.)
I never understood why we have so many collective nouns to describe animal groups. We have packs of dogs, flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of cattle, and so on. Don’t forget the baffling murder of crows. Of course, there are cuter groupings, such as a convocation of eagles, a parcel of hogs, and an army of frogs. But what do you call different types of animals all grouped together? I’m unsure, but I will steal the church liturgical editors’ catch-all gem: an assembly.
Therefore, I now invite all to the assembly of animals, for our annual Blessing of Pets, this Sunday, October 2nd at 11:45 AM. Please bring your furry, feathered, or scaled buddies (or a photo of them) to commemorate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Of course, we also invite you to the day’s other assemblies for worship, at 8:00 AM for a half-hour outdoor worship service (weather permitting), at 10:15 AM for traditional worship, and at 6:00 PM for Jazz worship.