Starting a conversation about the use of Pronouns

Friends of UCC,

Last week we rolled out forms for our new name tag system which ask for first and last names as well as pronouns.  In hindsight, we should have talked about and explained the use of pronouns before we sent out the forms.  In my training and experience I have learned that using pronouns on nametags and during introductions is an important step towards inclusiveness, solidarity and understanding for communities who want to be open and affirming to people of all gender identities.  It often means a great deal to those who identify as transgender, gender-nonconforming, or are gender-expansive.

When we talk about pronouns we are talking about how you self-identify and how you want people to refer to you.  I personally use he and him pronouns, which means when talking about me you might say, “he went for a walk”, or “those are his glasses”.   Many in our community do not identify with the traditional pronouns of he or she binaries and use other pronouns such as they and them or ze and hir, and many others. (see resources below on pronouns)

Several years ago we had Pastor Emmy Kegler lead a workshop on how congregations can be more affirming to LGBTQ people.  Emmy is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis and the founder and editor of Queer Grace, an encyclopedia of online resources around LGBTQ life and faith. She is a local and national speaker on biblical interpretation for women and the LGBTQ community.  Here are her words on the use of pronouns:

Sharing pronouns can take many different forms. People can share pronouns in introductions: “Hi, I’m Emmy, and my pronouns are she/her.” (The slash isn’t spoken aloud but rather acts like punctuation.) Pronouns might be shared in an email signature: “In peace, Pastor Emmy (she/her).” Pronouns can be added to church staff and council bios online: “Pastor Emmy (she/her) has been at Grace for six years.” Some congregations with etched nameplates for staff and members have added pronoun pins (available in many styles and colors); others, like mine, use adhesive name tags each Sunday with space for pronouns too.
In learning to share pronouns, faithful people have also learned to release another assumption: that everyone fits into a box marked “he” or “she.” The internal and external ways each human relates to their own body, soul, experience and existence is more complicated than that. People who don’t fit into those boxes have begun using another common personal pronoun: “they.”

We might have learned as children that “they” refers to a group, but its use as a singular pronoun dates back to Shakespeare. People who use “they,” “them” and “theirs” as their pronouns do so because the labels “he” and “she” don’t quite fit, for a variety of reasons.
After years or decades of only knowing she or he, some of us might struggle with learning “they” for those who prefer it. Using the right pronoun might seem trivial, but the respect it communicates is an incredible gift. Research has correlated using someone’s correct pronoun (and name, if they’ve changed it from what we previously knew them as) with a decline in suicidal ideation. The right pronoun can literally save a life.

Even as faithful people wrestle with new concepts of gender identity, we can all practice a small change in our vocabulary to directly contribute to everyone’s abundant life.”

As we continue to live into our core value of being open and affirming to all people we intend to incorporate pronouns into all facets of our congregational life.  As we get ready to print out name badges for everyone who comes to UCC, we hope you consider adding your pronouns to your nametag.  It is not a mandatory ask, but rather an opportunity to help our community feel safe and supportive to the wide diversity of people who come through our doors.
Note:  If you have already filled out the name tag form without adding your pronouns, but would like to, you are welcome to reach out to the office and add your pronouns or re-submit your name on the form.

If you would like to learn more about the use of pronouns you can check out these resources:

Emmy’s page:

UCC national church resources:

UCC Open and Affirming Coalition:

Here is another great resource:

I am also open to any conversations or questions on using pronouns and we plan to provide more education and in-person conversation for our community in the weeks to come.

Pastor John (he/him)

This letter was first published in UCC Missoula’s weekly E-Blast newsletter on August 22, 2023