Um, What Should I Call You?

tl;dr: If you have trouble knowing how to address a member of the clergy, “Reverend” will do in a pinch. Also, Episcopalians have status issues.

You know how design is information? What do the visual aspects of the following two sections tell you, before you even read the words?

Episcopal clergy titles:

  • Father
  • Father [Last Name]
  • Mother (more about that later)
  • Mother [Last Name]
  • Bishop [First Name]
  • Bishop [Last Name]
  • The Right Reverend [First and Last Name and you can throw in a handful of initials or middle names if you have them]
  • The Most Reverend [First and Last Name, initials etc., etc.]

Lutheran clergy titles:

  • Pastor [Last Name] – the usage of my childhood, presumably still in use
  • Pastor [First Name] – a noxious innovation did I say that – a present-day usage
  • Bishop [Last Name]

(Well, OK, if you look at this Wikipedia article, you see there are some variations gumming up the Lutheran works. But not a lot. )

The lists above come from my personal experiences in and around New England. Coming from a Lutheran upbringing, I kind of choked the first time I realized, in an Episcopal church, that I was expected to address the collar-wearing guy in front of me as “Father.” As a matter of courtesy, I did so. I’d been Episcopalian for a few years by then but had always attended a low church (which means it had a simple liturgy) and we referred to our clergy, both male and female, by first name. It was when I bumbled into my first high church, St. Swithin’s the Crazed, that I discovered I was in the land of Father So-and-So. (There were no Mother So-and-So’s then.)

I still am not crazy about that form of address, and always wonder a bit about the guys who insist on it. Who do they think they are? Seriously. I am sure it’s important to them and I”m sure they have plenty to say about it. Here’s what I have to say about it. Jesus called God Daddy; clergy are Jesus’ stand-ins; they are free to call God Daddy as much as they like; I am not sure why I am supposed to call them Daddy, straightened up a bit. Have yet to meet a woman priest who is addressed as Mother So-and-So, but at the inclusive high churches, that is the form of address. I think of “Mother” as the term of address for a Mother Superior of an order – there are Episcopal orders for women and this way of life is not over, in case you are interested.

All those titles in the Episcopal church, what is that about. There is a fair amount of discomfort over it, especially the awkwardness and distaste around titles for women priests. In a typical rambling conversation about forms of address, I once asked a woman priest why we don’t call our clergy “Pastor.”

“That has a feeling of Lutheran earnestness that I don’t care for,” she said.

I remember her remark after all these years. It struck me as condescending. I remember the pastors of my childhood and teenage years as intelligent, capable guys, with plenty of humor and presence. Maybe she was thinking of Lutheran pietism, which can be pretty cloying. OK, I can live with that. I guess.

I’ve been looking at ELCA Lutheran services online recently, the ones that follow a traditional Eucharistic liturgy. Do you know what strikes me about them? Their simplicity. Their sweetness.

This entry was posted in Clergy, Episcopalians, Anglicanism, Lutherans, Lutheranism, Nuns and monastic life. Bookmark the permalink.

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