My question was this:
My new rector is "Fr. Max". Long tradition of calling rectors "Fr." here. So, he asked me what I wanted to be called. Hmmmm . . . "Mother" is the logical choice, but . . . having said that. . . Not. Really. Comfortable. It's mostly for the kids. Everyone else will call us by our first name. What do you think?Last time I checked, there were almost 90 comments. Guess I hit a nerve, huh?
I've been in places where I've been called "Mother" or "Mother Elizabeth" - mostly inner city congregations with High Anglo-Catholic traditions. In churches from broad-church traditions, I've been mostly known as "Reverend Elizabeth," - which is still grammatically incorrect but better than being called "Reverend Kaeton," I suppose - if there can be degrees of grammatical incorrectness.
I mean, think about it. The title for a Judge is "The Honorable So-and-So" but s/he is called "Judge So-and-So," or simply, "Your Honor." Not, "Honorable So-and-So."
My title is "The Reverend" but it is grammatically incorrect to use that in a direct address. Folks from more free-church traditions seem to be fine with it. Episcopalians seem to have a particular sticking-point with this.
It's parents who either ask me about - or assume to call me by - my title as a way to emulate and teach respect in front of their children.
Their teachers are called "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Jones" or "Ms. Anderson." So are their neighbors. The crossing guard is "Mr. White". The Librarian is "Ms. Black." Police Officers are also called "Officer Johnson." So, referring to their clergy person with a title is a sign of respect - which I think is good.
Privately, their parents call me by my first name. Well, most do. There have been parents who insist on calling me "Reverend Elizabeth" even in private, personal conversations - even after I've said, "Please, call me 'Elizabeth'". I have come to accept that as their way of reminding me - and them - of how they see me and what they expect of me. And, it's okay.
Funny. In almost every other profession, titles are not gender specific. Doctor. Nurse. Attorney. Judge. Mayor. Senator. Officer. Private. Corporal. Sargent.
Bishop. Deacon. Chaplain. Dean. Canon.
Lutherans have long used "Pastor" - which I sorta like. "Parson" has a quaint sound. I guess I'm of a certain age that "Elder" rubs me the wrong way.
The Quaker tradition of "Friend" - no matter the status of ordination - is lovely. Egalitarian. Biblical, in fact. It's what Jesus called us - well, those of us he didn't call "Beloved." He saved that title for the "anawim" - the outcast.
As one clergy colleague commented, "I guess the important thing is to make sure you answer when you're called."
My dilemma has to do with the fact that personally, I don't like the title "Mother". Or, "Father". I think it sets up a very negative relational dynamic. I think it can be infantilizing for parishioners which has the potential to communicate a kind of "respect" that is simply fraught with psychological baggage that is less than helpful in Christian community.
Actually, I think it's hysterical when newly ordained 30-somethings are called "Mother" or "Father". And, if I'm in a group of clergy who are referring to each other as "Mother" or "Father" I almost always, at some point, get a really, really bad case of the giggles and have to leave the room.
Some commented on FaceBook that "Mother" carries a lot of social/cultural baggage. Well, for others, so does "Father". Sometimes, a lot more social/cultural baggage.
However, I think it's important, when there's been a norm established in the community, and the male has a certain title, the woman ought to have the equivalent title. This, for me, is the deal-breaker.
Yes, it's about parity. It's more about respect.
One clergy woman commented on FaceBook: "I went with no title and have now been told that the lack of respect I get is because people call me by my first name ..."
I think there's probably more to the situation, but she may be onto something symptomatic of the larger problem.
I know. I know. Respect has to be earned. Well, let me tell you from personal experience: in the institutional church, a woman who is a priest could walk hand stands for 10 miles, while chanting the Angelus in perfect pitch and key - twice before breakfast - and still not get the respect her male colleagues get just for walking into a room.
In the church, for women, respect is not easily 'earned'. Oh, it may have the outward and visible signs of respect, but it's really just the social graces of learned behavior.
Respect, when afforded to women, is not done so easily or well. In my experience in the church, respect must be the expectation of the ordained woman from her congregation.
This is key: She must first respect herself enough to expect respect from others.
Let me say that again:
A woman must first respect herself enough to expect respect from others.In my experience, anyway, that's how it works. Other women's experience may be different. The experience of other clergy men may be different - or, the same, depending on their age.
This has been MY experience. This is how I conduct myself and the expectations I go in with in a new social situation. It has changed - modified some - as I've collected wrinkles and gray hair. I suspect some of that may be more respect for my age than my gender or my authority.
Bottom line: I have learned to respect myself and to expect respect from others.
When necessary, I insist on it.
You knew I had a story about this:
Very early in my ordained ministry, I was called for jury duty. I did NOT want to serve. It's not that I didn't want to perform my civic duty. At that particular time, I just didn't have time. I had previously served on jury duty. I would have been happy to serve at another time, but this was just a HUGE imposition on me and my community at that time.
So, I wore my collar to jury duty, figuring that no one really wants a clergy person in the jury box. This was one time I thought the negative press about "religious people" might just work in my favor.
Not so. After several hours of milling around a large room filled with other Very Unhappy People. I was called into a jury pool for a case where several employees were suing a large company for asbestosis.
The judge wanted to interview the possible jurors. I was called to take the stand, sworn in by the bailiff, and then the judge addressed me.
"Ummm . . . I see you're a clergy person."
"Yes, your honor," I said, dutifully.
"Well, I'm Catholic," he said, "and we call our clergy 'Father'. What shall I call you?" It was hard not to notice the smirk on his face.
"Well, I'm Anglo-Catholic (I meant that as my theological position but we had not yet begun to think of ourselves as Anglican the way we do now)," I said, "and you may call me 'Mother'."
He just about chocked.
"Uh. . . well . . .in the Catholic church, 'Mother' is a nun."
"Yes, I understand. I used to be Roman Catholic," I said, "But I'm not Roman Catholic any longer. I'm Anglo-Catholic. So, if you call your priests, 'Father', you may call this priest 'Mother'."
"Priest?" he chocked again, "I mean, don't they call you 'Minister'?"
"We're all ministers in baptism," I said, trying to contain my growing disdain for him. "In The Episcopal Church, I am called a 'priest'." I paused for effect: "Not 'priestess'. Priest."
"Well, isn't there anything else I can call you? I mean, like Reverend? I mean, isn't that what all Protestant clergy are called?"
"You could, I suppose, but you would be grammatically incorrect, your honor. I mean, I wouldn't call you 'Honorable ______'. I'd call you 'Judge _____ ' or simply, 'Your Honor'. And, by the way, I'm not Protestant. I'm Anglo-Catholic."
He grimaced. He shuffled papers. He cleared his throat.
"Well, then . . . . um . . .'Mother' . . . um . . . my first question to you is this: Is there any reason you know that would disqualify you from this case?"
"I'm not sure, your Honor," I said.
"You're not sure?" he raised his eyebrow in response as he lowered his chin onto the palm of his hand and tilted his head to listen to my response.
"No. I mean, well, does it matter that I think the real trial here is not whether or not the company is responsible for these men having asbestosis? Rather, I think that corporate greed is on trial here, and how the bottom line in Corporate America is always more important to the men in those hand-tailored suits and imported Italian shoes than the health and well being of those who work for them."
Yes, I was trying to get out of jury duty, but I had just sworn to tell the "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." So, I did.
The legal team for the plaintiffs broke into broad smiles. The legal team for the defense looked down at their shoes while they shuffled papers.
I looked back at the judge who was still resting his chin in his hand as he allowed a deep sigh of frustration to escape his lips. He stared at me for a while before the turned to the plaintiff's bench - never moving his chin from his hand.
"Gentlemen?" he asked.
"Oh, we'd LOVE this juror, your Honor. Thank you."
He looked over at the defense team.
"Need I ask?"
"The defense respectfully declines this potential juror, your Honor."
The judge looked back at me in total befuddlement.
"You are excused .. . 'Mother' (he said it like it was half a word) . . .but I reserve the right to keep you for the rest of the day in the potential jury pool."
"Yes, sir," I said. I couldn't resist adding, "I suppose I could find something to do for the next hour or so. If you'd like, I would be happy to provide pastoral care to these gentlemen here - the plaintiff's - while their legal team interviews potential jurors."
"No . . . no . . . um, thank you. That's very . . . um . . . nice of you . . .um . . . but that won't be necessary. You are excused. I mean, if you want, you can leave now. You don't have to wait around."
"Thank you, your honor," I said as I started to leave my seat.
"No, wait," he said. "One more question: Who is your bishop?"
"Excuse me?" I asked, startled.
"Who is your bishop? I want to write him a note and send him my condolences. He certainly has his hands full with you in his diocese."
The courtroom burst into a nervous giggle. I blushed and said, "Well, thank you, I think," and then got the hell out of there before answering his question or risking being sent to another jury pool.
It wasn't until later that I became furious. I mean, really! The judge making a joke about calling my bishop was the absolute HEIGHT of patriarchy. One man in authority sending condolences to another man in authority about "the little woman."
No, I probably hadn't earned his respect, even though I made him use a term that was equal to the status of male clergy in his life. Ultimately, he didn't even fully treat me with respect - making a joke so I would know who was really "in charge".
I just taught him how to behave in public. I can only imagine how I might have been treated - or how he might have treated other ordained women - if I hadn't insisted on at least the social pretense of equality. I know when I'm being "managed" or "tolerated".
I'd like to think that times have changed. Attitudes have changed. There are now three women who serve on the Supreme Court. There are more than a dozen women who are bishops in the Anglican Communion.
Then again, there is a woman who is Presiding Bishop and Primate.
And, we've seen how the Archbishop of Canterbury treats her.
Someone left this comment on my FaceBook page, which I just loved:
"I am reminded of a (perhaps apocryphal) story from the Diocese of Western Michigan where, so it is said, there was a diocesan convention floor debate on what to call women priests. In frustration, someone said, "Well, what DO Anglicans call women in authority?" And someone else said, "Your Majesty." Works for me."Truth be told, the title of respect I've always loved is "Momma" - which is what my children call me.
I must admit that the title I love most is "Nana".
Only five people in the whole world can call me by that name. They were born into that privilege. I trust there will be a few more yet to come.
I hope to always be found worthy of the respect and trust and honor inherent in that title. I think I work the hardest to earn that one. I'd like to think I deserve it - and always will strive to do so.
All the rest of ya'll, just call me Elizabeth.
It's what God calls me. And, I always respond. Because I know God respects and loves me - even when I haven't exactly been loving and respectful to myself.
And, that's all that really matters.