Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hello Mother. Hello Father. Here I am at Camp Clerical Forms of Address

Our diocesan website is undergoing a much needed overhaul. We hope to be launching the new site soon.

The last time we renewed the website, I was in charge of assembling the page which we titled "Communities, Congregations and Clergy." It was a never-ending source of pedantic frustration, let me tell you.

Some of the struggles, while frustrating, were easily disposed of. The people who argued we should group rural congregations by the multi-point parish of which they were a part - and moreover, by the name assigned to the multi-point parish - were summarily dismissed. If someone is looking to see about an Anglican Church in Esterhazy, they aren't going to google "New Sumner Parish" or "Pelly Deanery." That would be silly. They're going to google "Anglican, Esterhazy." And if they find our page, the logical order to list churches was by city or town (or in the case of truly rural churches, district).

There were, however, questions that weren't quite so easily resolved. Like what we call clergy.

We had clergy who adamantly did not want to be listed as "the Reverend John Smith." For some it was a matter of churchmanship and catholic identity. For others it was a desire to avoid that grammatical blasphemy "Reverend Smith." (I don't care what you think you learned as a child. "Reverend Smith" is never, ever, ever grammatically correct or appropriate. Never. Ever.)

On the other hand, there were only a very few who would look to the traditional high church model of "Father John Smith." Few of the men .. and none of the women. I know of ordained Anglican women who use "Mother" quite comfortably, but so far as I can tell there's not a one of them in this diocese.

Some object to the use of "Father / Mother" on the grounds that it infantilizes the laity. Personally, I don't buy that. Poor clergy leadership can infantilize the laity whatever the priest is called. And "Father Knows Best" clergy are not necessarily high church, not necessarily conservative and not necessarily men.

I prefer to be called by my first name in most contexts. If that seems inappropriate, I'd opt for "Father Malcolm," "Father French" or "Father Malcolm French." It's half churchmanship and half loathing for the misuse of "Reverend."

I suppose on the website we could have imposed a standard that made some people unhappy. Or we could have imposed no standard at all and simply asked everyone how they'd like to be listed. Neither of those seemed quite the right solution.

What I ended up doing was simply using people's names, followed by their order. "John Smith, Deacon." "Mary Jones, Priest." "John Doe, Bishop."  It worked ... and it avoided a fight.

Apparently in Poland, a secular priest (that is, a priest who isn't part of a religious order) is addressed as "Priest John Smith" (or whatever the Polish equivalent of John Smith would be). Certainly we are used to addressing bishops as "Bishop John" or "Bishop Doe" or "Bishop John Doe." The same with deacons and archdeacons and canons and deans. At our meetings, it's all "Bishop Rob" and "Dean Mike" and "Archdeacon Mary Ann."

So here is my modest proposal to stop the argument over clerical nomenclature. Henceforth I propose that priests be called "Priest."


Priest Malcolm.


Matthew said...

It's an interesting notion, and one that has a lot of sense behind it. Then again, I know some clerics who strongly prefer presbyter to priest--so we may find disagreements anyway!

Alan said...

What about Pastor Malcolm?

Alan said...

Sorry, I meant, what about the title Pastor, Malcolm? Punctuation really IS important isn't it?

Malcolm+ said...

I suppose it is possible, but the term "Pastor," while familiar to our Lutheran partners and to a host of evangelicals of all sorts (and used in some contexts by Romans) feels alien to me somehow. Plus it takes a role (pastoral care) which is not and should not be purely clerical and makes it so. And if the idea is pastor as shepherd (which is where it comes from), then surely that's the person with the silly hat and the shepherd's crook.