Christianity Culture Education History Language and Languages People Religion Russia Russian Ukrainian USSR/Soviet Union

When You Have To Deal With the Back-Seat Driver (der Co-Trainer)

One of the key duties of church warden is dealing with the back-seat driver, who thinks he knows more than the experts, just because the back-seat driver has watched a few YouTube videos.  Here’s an email I had to send out this month to explain to the back-seat driver, umm, actually, I do know what I am talking about.


Dear Council members

Some days ago I was asked:

“Are we making a major mistake by continuing to use the Russian language for services ie aligning ourselves with Russia instead of with Ukrainian language?”

This is a fair and legitimate question and worthy of more than a cursory reply.  I am pleased to be able to answer this question in relative depth in this email.

The decision to use the Russian language in our readings is based on a troika of:

  1. Research and study
  2. Empirical evidence
  3. Availability of finite resources in our church

I will now drill down on each of the above points.

  1. Research and study
    1. I studied Russian Studies at university, including a final-year module in Comparative Slavonic Philology (CSP). 
    2. It depends on who you ask what the overlap between the Ukrainian language and the Russian language is, but my CSP lecturer told us that there is a 70% overlap between the two languages.
    3. Russian and Ukrainian are more similar than, by analogy, Dutch and German.
    4. No Ukrainian is ever offended by being addressed in Russian.
    5. All Ukrainians speak Russian (as mother tongue).  However, not all Ukrainians speak Ukrainian.  Broadly speaking, that often applies to Ukrainians living in the eastern part of Ukraine, eg Donbas.
  2. Empirical evidence
    1. President Zelensky of Ukraine is himself from a Russophone family.
    2. News clips of Ukrainian soldiers often show them speaking among themselves in Russian.
    3. Closer to home, some of the refugees we have met do not speak Ukrainian, for example one gentleman originally from Tajikistan.
    4. Refugees attending Christ Church have been delighted to hear bible readings, chat (and sing) in Russian.  I have apologised for not speaking Ukrainian to them, and they have told me not to worry.  Yesterday, one lady told me to it was wonderful to hear bible readings in her own language (my emphasis, not hers).
  3. Availability of finite resources
    1. Notwithstanding our desire to offer readings in Ukrainian, we have in our congregation only one member who speaks Ukrainian. 
    2. We have two (perhaps more) fluent Russian-speakers.  This paucity of linguists ultimately means we are limited in what language we can offer to our refugee brothers and sisters.

I do hope that this explanation explains the approach Christ Church has taken regarding this issue, and that in the words of barrister F E Smith (Lord Birkenhead) you are now certainly better-informed.


Finally, here’s the full quote by F E Smith:

Judge: I’ve listened to you for an hour and I’m none wiser.
Smith: None the wiser, perhaps, my lord but certainly better informed. Long live being better informed!

By Samuel Peeps Dairyist

I am a Dairyist. I like typos. I live on Planet Earth.

2 replies on “When You Have To Deal With the Back-Seat Driver (der Co-Trainer)”

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