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Friday, June 10, 2011

Giving up 'Father'

Soon and very soon, it will be Fathers' Day.

This year, on June 19, 2011, I have a proposal for the Church.

I think we should use the day to begin a movement to give up 'Father' as an honorific title for male clergy.

And, I think it needs to be a movement led by men.

Well, let me refine that. I know that the Roman Catholic Church calls Her clergy 'Father' - and, of course, all Her clergy are male. I'm not worried about them because, frankly, they are not my central concern. Neither is The Episcopal Church theirs.

And, I know that the practice is not uniform in The Episcopal Church. However, I have noticed that more and more of my younger male colleagues are Very Comfortable with being called 'Father'. More and more younger female clergy are countering that inequality by insisting on being called 'Mother'.

While I understand and applaud my colleague's insistence on gender equality - indeed, as anyone who knows my email address quickly recognizes, I have insisted on it, as well - I'm not liking this movement. At. All. Indeed, I fear I have become unintentionally complicit in it.

I have come to believe that The Episcopal Church has reached a stage of spiritual growth and development where we can finally give up calling our male clergy 'Father' - and, as that happens, our female clergy 'Mother'.

I must admit that, ever after 25 years of ordained service in the church, it still makes my skin creepy-crawly whenever I'm in a room with male clergy, all about the same age, who are dressed in clerical collars and wearing long, white dressed, who call each other 'Father'.

As Annie Lamott says, it's enough to make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish.

I understand. The roots go deep and wind themselves around the hearts and minds of many devout Christians who are Episcopalian.

Women have been ordained priests in The Episcopal Church since 1974. The Episcopal Church changed its canons in 1976 to 'allow' that the 'irregular' ordinations of eleven women at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, and the four women ordained in Washington, DC, were, in fact, 'regular' and began 'allowing' the ordination of women in 1977.

That's thirty-seven (37!!!) years, people. Even if you are scrupulous (as some are), and begin the count from when the ordination of women was "actually legal", that's thirty-five (35!!!!) years.

I think we're old enough, now, to move away from needing "Daddy" and "Mommy". Don't you?

Why do I think it's a bad idea to refer to clergy as 'Father' and 'Mother'?

Well, let's start with Jesus, shall we? He said, "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and (he) is in heaven." (Mt 23:9)

Of course, Jesus was not saying that one could not apply that term to one's own father. Rather, Jesus was referring to the practice, in his day, of Rabbis claiming that title to denote authority, eminence, superiority, a right to command, and a claim to particular respect.

Jesus is saying that this title belongs only to God in whose eyes we are all one, all equal. Christ is teaching that the source of all life and truth is God, and we ought not to seek or receive a title which properly belongs to God.

So, there's that - but, there's more.

I have come to believe, after 25 years of ordained ministry, that the whole paradigm of "church family" sets up a dynamic that is fraught with problems - indeed, many 'dangers, troubles, toils and snares'.

Yes, I understand that St. Paul said that we are "sisters and brothers in Christ" - but I don't think he was thinking of Cain and Able or the rape of Tamar when he wrote those words. Yes, he was calling us to a "new relationship in Christ" but, unfortunately, it doesn't often work out that way. Not in my experience of the post-modern church community, anyway.

Indeed, I think the whole "church family" paradigm allows for so much of the dysfunction and, in fact, spiritual violence we see in our church today. So many people are working out their own unresolved issues of their 'family of origin' that it makes my head spin.

The whole "Father/Mother" title only compounds that dysfunction and, I suspect, invites some of the spiritual violence many clergy are feeling "when sheep attack" - or, when the shepherd attacks the sheep.

I can hear some of my colleagues countering with the need for honorific titles as a way to communicate authority. I understand. There is an even longer tradition in the church of referring to clergy as "Mr." More recently, that has become "Mrs." Or, "Ms.".

We have no problem calling the President of the United States, "Mr. Obama". If a sense of formality is needed or desired, why shouldn't clergy be satisfied with "Mr. Smith" or "Ms. Doe"?

I rather like the idea of, "the Rev'd Mr. . . ." or "the Rev'd Ms......" and then, in formal settings, to be called "Mr." or "Ms.".

What do we do with other honorific titles, like "Canon" or "Dean" or "Chaplain" or someone with a doctoral degree?

One of my former seminarians, when he's being a wisenheimer, will call and say, "Hello Reverend Doctor Canon Deputy Chaplain Kaeton." If he were my son, I would smack him on the arm. But, he's not. He's my colleague. And, I adore him. Enough to get the humor and laugh.

Actually, I think it all really depends on the person and the situation. I'm no Emily Post, but I think, in formal situations, it's fine to say, "I'd like to introduce the Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton," which gives me the opportunity, depending on the situation, to say, "Please call me Dr. Kaeton" or, even more preferably, "Please call me Elizabeth."

When people with children insist that their children refer to me with an honorific title, I usually ask what they call their male clergy and take the female version of that. More often than not, this means that "Father" becomes "Mother." I don't like it, but I think that's a less confusing translation for kids.

'Mother' is such a loaded title - especially for people from Roman Catholic backgrounds. Anyone who has read Freud, however, can tell you that the subconscious or unconscious mind is very powerful and images of 'Mother' can have positive and negative effects - not all of them desirable or particularly helpful.

In my last congregation, we settled on "Rev. Elizabeth". It's not exactly grammatically correct, but it lends a certain formality without being too stuffy.

I grow so weary of being introduced to someone while wearing my collar and, after noting the bemused or befuddled look on the face of the person I've just met, being asked, "Ummm..... What do they call you?"

I generally smile and say, "Elizabeth. It's what God calls me."

These days, my smile is growing thin. Especially after the person to whom I've just been introduced talks about the previous rector, "Father Smith."

Which is why I think this whole movement ought to be led by male clergy. I am convinced that it's really the only way things are going to be changed.

Indeed, I think male bishops ought to take more of a lead. Many now introduce themselves as "John," or, "Steve," and seem not to mind when people call them that, but they do not stop them when some people call them "Bishop".

I think that has its appropriate place and time, but if more bishops talked about 'servant leadership' - and, in fact, practiced it themselves - we'd not only see greater acceptance of women clergy, but the building up and respect for the priesthood of all believers.

Which is really the point.

So, I'm challenging my male colleagues to work this theme into their sermons on Sunday, June 17th. Or, write about it for the weekly parish email newsletter. Or, talk about it at the announcements or at the Adult Forum after church.

When men begin to be be more egalitarian, setting aside the honorific title that is so problematic, so antithetical to what Jesus taught, the greater the chances are of successfully changing the paternalistic culture from a "church family" to a "faith community".

Language is very powerful. So are titles. It's time to change them and rethink the way we are church. I have a strong suspicion that as we move from a "church family" to a "faith community," we may just stop squabbling like so many infantile children and find ourselves praying together a whole lot more as adults.

I hope I can rely on my colleagues - male and female - to help in this movement. But, it's going to take male colleagues to give up a bit of their power and authority before others can have a more equal share.

When the ones who have the most to gain from the system begin to give up or share what they have, we'll be better able to see more of the "Beloved Community" of Jesus.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". Galatians 3:28


Christian Paolino said...

What do you think of Pastor Elizabeth? I know we don't really use that term but it is at least benevolent and (I think) gender-neutral.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's very Lutheran, isn't it? Which doesn't make it right or wrong but distinctive, right? It's already been 'branded', if you will.

Episcopalians have more of a claim on Mr. or Ms. as a formality. And, we do love our formality more than gender neutrality.

Patricia Nakamura said...

Since a bishop is called "Bishop Zook" and a deacon is "Deacon Smithers" why not call a priest a priest? "Priest Kaeton." Pastor sounds Lutheran; Elder, Presbyterian.
We call a dean Dean; likewise a rector or a vicar. Even "Curate Pickle," I guess.
Or, I suppose, Uncle and Aunt instead of Father and Mother.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Patricia - Well, first up, I want to get away from all 'family' names. The family dynamic stuff is killing us. Witness the language of the Anglican Contract.

I don't know about "Priest Kaeton". I think it's easier to change the culture - ie the Rev'd Mr - as opposed to creating a whole new one.

Still, it's an interesting suggestion.

Dale said...

I was very lucky to become an Episcopalian, to begin walking down that road, in the diocese of Oklahoma which didn't place too much emphasis on "Father". I grew up in the Pentecostal tradition, where everyone is "Brother" or "Sister". The pastor might be Sister Kate (as was a pastor I knew well in the 1960s) or Brother Keith (my own pastor). But so was the newly baptized person, the Sunday school teacher, or any other adult. "Father" didn't sit well with me.

Then I was 10 years in the very low church Diocese of Texas. The Rev'd Helen Havens was my priest then. I felt quite comfortable calling her Helen and still do. I called priests who were male by their first names as well. Introducing a priest at a formal event, I would say "Dr. Anderson, this is the Rev'd Helen Havens, the priest at St. Stephen's Episcopal; Helen, you'll be pleased to meet Martin Anderson, my dentist, who lives close to our choirmaster." Or whatever. No Mother. No father.

Now I live in New York City and, though people look at me as though I'm crazy, I still call ordained people by their given names, in the same way I expect them to address me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Good for you, Dale. That's the way I think it should be in a 'community of prayer'

Hutch said...

Over the years, what I have noticed that in some congregations, if a woman does not use Mother, they don't treat her like a "Father", if you get my meaning. I have seen women clergy treated very badly by people calling them by their first names who would not dare to behave so to "Father". So, while I agree with you, I especially think it has to come from the men to be a change that will work.

David and John said...

I usually agree with you, Elizabeth, but I'm having some problems here.

You make a good arguement for dropping "Father" and "Mother", but I just can not seem to buy into it. I often call my priest by his first name, but when using his name in a more formal setting I always refer to him as "Father".

And even though I have a good relationship with my Bishop, I could never call him by his first name. Even if he were to suggest I do so, it would make me most uncomfortable.

Maybe it's just my southern upbringing :)

Watson said...

I don't like titles like 'father" and "mother" and find they are usually attempts at power rather than indications of a role.

Church people seem to put a lot of emphasis on image of family. It seems to me more accurate to think of our communities as "branches of the vine". (John 15) Lord knows, most of us are full of sap! :-)

Barbara, humble servant of the Princess Daisy of Alberni!

Dom said...

I absolutely despise having to refer to a male priest as "Father". (Although I admit to having a preference for female priests.) I've always addressed my Episcopal priests by their first name. When referring to a priest in the 3rd person, I sometimes refer to the priest by name, and sometimes as "Reverend" + name, depending on how formal/informal the priest is.

Frair John said...

This entire thing wouldn't even be an issue if Henry Edward Cardinal Manning hadn't extended the use of "father" to secular clergy. then again he did a good deal many things to cause us to weep over Carolines grave.

I'm sure this is going to go over like a lead balloon:

I'm disinclined to give up the "Family" language, since I think that surrendering something due to misuse is giving power to the miss-users. I'm also disinclined because I'm not willing to toss out somting with it's roots so far back because of post-structuralist discomfort with authority.

Tracie H said...

I find it very difficult to call any ordained person just by their first name. My old Methodist pastor was *always* referred to as "Dr. Ebinger" at least. I really don't think I could ever just say "Good morning Lee" to Father Lee, for instance.

But I do this with just about everyone I know who has a title. I never call my doctor Arsenio; he is Dr. Mestre.

Maybe I am rather old-fashioned.

Watson said...

I suspect age might also have something to do with our comfort zone in this area. ??? and of course, local useage.

Malcolm+ said...

I'll note with some amusement that, in our diocese, if the bishop appointed the full complement of dean, archdeacons, rural/regional deans and canons, none of the stipendiary clergy would need to worry our pretty little heads over nomenclature. On the communities and clergy section of our website, to get round the various preferences, the clergy are all listed as "Firstname Lastname, priest" or "Prenom Nomdefaille, deacon" or whatever.

I actually agree with the logic that if my bishop is "Bishop Greg" and our executive archdeacon is "Archdeacon Rob" and the deacon at my home parish is "Deacon Susan," then logically I should be "Priest Malcolm." But that's probably too radical and still hypothetical.

In the meantime, I the clergy of our parish are generally "Malcolm," "Rob" and "Derek" except when the bulletin refers to the children's story when we become "Father Malcolm," "Archdeacon Rob" and "Father Derek."

Finally, I agree that "Father Knows Best clergy are almost always destructive. I've learned, however, that not all "Father Knows Best" clergy are Anglocatholics; not all "Father Knows Best" clergy are conservatives; not all "Father Knows Best" clergy are men and, the majority of "Father Knows Best" clergy wouldn't dream of being called either "Father" or "Mother."

Catherine said...

I call no man father except my Father in heaven, and my dad, who has gone to his reward. I call no one mother except my own and the aspect of Christ who is our Mother as Blessed Julian writes. My former priest never wanted to be called anything but Anne or if absolutely necessary, Reverend Anne. Calling a male priest Father, especially in the Episcopal Church, smacks of patriarchy and abuse of the servanthood of the priesthood. If anything male priests should be called Brother, for indeed he is our brother but never our father. My two cents.

Murdoch Matthew said...

The month I stayed at St. Gregory's Priory at Three Rivers, Michigan, another guest was a young priest in residence to recover from a "nervous breakdown" (do people still have those?). One afternoon at tea in the garden, he proudly announced that when a parishioner would ask him for his first name, he'd respond: "Faaather."

Back in those days, "Father" was a declaration of catholicity -- our clergy were as valid as any. I worked for a decade at the Episcopal Book Club with Father Foland, and one of his crusades was to get the nomenclature right. People were referred to by title: The IX Bishop of Nebraska, The Rector of St. Andrews, Lawton -- the office was the site of authority, not the individual. All very comforting in its day.

When I discovered how badly the Church had served me on the subject of sexuality, the whole structure of titles, offices, and historical assumptions came to seem spurious. It was the people after all, and not their titles, who were acting. The name written in the book of life is the Christian name, and no more exalted title is needed. I didn't call my last pastor "Edgar" to be familiar, but to acknowledge our common Baptism. At this late date, I feel I've had all the fathers I need in one life. I'm not a child now. No more.

"Father" is a remnant of patriarchy. Understandable that folk would want an equally weighty title for women in the priesthood, but the patriarchal structure is called in question by women in the clergy. I weary of the robes, the costumes, the hats, the playing church. Let us love one another, serve our communities, and call one another by our names.

Mark Delcuze said...

One of the joys of having served in the Diocese of Connecticut was +Drew Smith's insistence that we address each other at Diocesan Convention by our Baptismal Names. It was a joy to hear the laity and the ordained recognized by the Chair with the highest honor we shall ever attain, "Member of the Body of Christ".

I do confess, when I am calling in a hospital emergency room in the wee hours of the morning, I do drag out every honorific I can muster.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hutch - I do understand. Some - all male - have written me offline to say, bluntly, "drop the 'motherkaeton' in your email'. I say, "Not until you get all your male colleagues to drop the 'Father'".

Of sauce for geese and gander and all that. Because, you're right - most congregations don't treat female clergy they way they treat male clergy. The 'Mother' doesn't really change that but it serves as a reminder.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

D&J - This is fascinating. I've had several folk tell me that they have a hard time calling clergy "Father" because of their "southern upbringing".

I'm talking about a culture change. It's going to take a while. It starts with one. It will move better as more male clergy say, "Please stop calling me Father Bob. Call me Bob."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Daisy - I've always liked the image of vines and branches.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dom - I agree. I can barely get it off my lips. I mean, isn't anyone listening to Jesus?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar - But, how do you square that with what Jesus said? I mean, you can't get more directive than that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tracie H - Well, there are places and situations that are more formal where titles are absolutely important. I'm not opposed to titles. I'm really just opposed to ones that Jesus opposed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - What do you think of "Priest Johnson"? I have a hard time with it, but if we say, "Bishop Smith" or "Archdeacon Jones" then, isn't it at least consistent?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Catherine. Some people's two cents are worth a whole lot more than other people's nickel's worth of advice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Mr. Murdock. It is about a remnant of patriarchy. I'm really hoping we can find a way to be done with it, finally. At least the 'honorific titles'.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I hear ya. Going into a hospital in the middle of the night is a different story. I'll let the staff call me whatever they need to so I can break through the institutional barriers and get to the person in need. You wanna throw around "Dr. Smith" and "Head Nurse Jones"? Fine. Mother Kaeton here, Vicar of All Llangollen. Whatever it takes. Move aside, open that hospital curtain and let me tend to my part of the healing.

textjunkie said...

I'm all for doing like the Quakers and using no honorifics whatsoever. Everyone goes by their first name, period. (Last names if we need to distinguish them from someone else, or roles as suffix, like Bob the Deacon, Jill the Priest to make it clear.)

I'm not at all comfortable with calling anyone "Mother X", but then I'm not all that happy calling anyone "Father X" either. "Mr." and "Ms." sounds good to me, if you *must* have an honorific.

Le Fou said...

The only title I object to is Reverend Hill. It's like calling a judge Honorable Jones. I introduce myself by my first and last names, and when someone asks what they should call me, I say, "Bunker." I am comfortable with whatever someone WANTS to call me. I have no interest in moving them to call me something that I prefer.

Bunker Hill+
Spearfish, SD

MadPriest said...

Elizabeth. It's what God calls me.

Maybe, not always :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

textjunkie - The Quakers have it right on so many issues. Now, if they could just do liturgy. Once in a while.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Le Fou - It's just bad grammar.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MP - And, you would know this because . . . .?

MadPriest said...

God told me once that I was as bad as that Elizabeth Kaeton - and he wasn't referring to me as Jonathan at the time.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, if God said to you that you were behaving as bad as Elizabeth Kaeton, it obviously couldn't have been that grievous an offense. Might have even been a compliment.

God always calls me Elizabeth. It's the name that's written in the palm of her hand, so she just has to look at it to make sure.

Frair John said...

Perhaps I should have made myself more clear:

Secular (that is to say parochial) Clergy shouldn't be called Father or Mother to begin with. The reason why we do is because Manning couldn't stand that he wasn't called by anything when he was a priest, but his rival Newman was called "Father." He simply changed the styling when he was in England and it caught on.

What I was trying to say is the the Monastic practice goes back to the early days of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The calling of the senior Monks and Hermits "Abba" and "Amma" was a part of the leaving of your old family and household behind and joining a new one. It was also a sign of respect to the greater experience, if not age, of the recipient. It was also to show that the person was trustworthy. An Abba didn't have the Authority of a Rabbi over his followers. It's also interesting that the terms in question were far more familiar and intimate than "Father" and "Mother," being more akin to "Daddy" and "Mommy." The Latin equivalents had taken on mildly pejorative meaning and so "Abba" became "Pater" and "Amma" Mater. It's interestig though that the term Abbot was created for the head of a House of monks and Abbess (which is the feminized version of a masculine word - literally a woman who had the legal identity and authority of a man) was invented. In both cases it seems that the terms arose from a position of needing to safe guard the communities from interfering with the internal life of the community.

I was trying to defend the Monastic/Religious use, but not the use outside of that context.

Anonymous said...

When the Presiding Bishop came to visit, someone asked her what we should call her, she replied, Call me Katharine. Works for me.

Frair John said...

"In both cases it seems that the terms arose from a position of needing to safe guard the communities from outside officials interfering with the internal life of the community."

Sheesh ....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I understand, Friar. Secular, parochial, non-parochial, monastic - doesn't matter, does it? Jesus said the same to everyone. I'm adding the fact that, in my experience, the whole "church family" thing is not only not helpful, it can be dangerous.

I'm not opposed to conferring honorific titles of respect. I'm saying that they shouldn't be "Father/Mother". Anywhere. Anytime. For anybody.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - please leave your name next time. I absolutely agree with you.

susankay said...

As a teenager and a member of a Congregational Church (now UCC), I went to a Quaker summer camp. It branded me for life -- I pretty much call everyone by their first name. If they object, I stop calling them anything.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - There are times when honorific or descriptive titles are important - in a court room, in the hospital emergency room, etc. I just don't think it's appropriate at all times in the church.

Anonymous said...

I too am from Oklahoma. Titles do not make the person for me. You must earn my respect. I am willing to call the priest whatever he or she prefers. But I will admit to stumbling over Pastor which reminds me of livestock and then I have to wonder if their sermons will smell too.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

LOL, Maria!

David and John said...

Yes, the "southern upbringing" can sometimes be a hurdle!

Here are some other things to consider. Those of us who consider ourselves of the Anglo-Catholic variety of Episcopalians have a deep attachment to tradition, the use of the title "Father" ranking pretty high with some (present company included).

Also, my parish is like a great many in TEC who have a large population of ex-Roman Catholics. I know many who absolutely would not call their Priest anything other than "Father". The similarities were what drew them to TEC, and were it not for those similarities leading them to us they would have never stayed around long enough to truly understand our theology.

Lindy said...

If you ever hear me refer to anyone as Father, Mother, or bishop, you may be assured that I am only being snarky.

Peggy said...

I can hardly finds words to say how remarkable and thought-provoking this idea is...I've thought about it often since being ordained in 2005 and "Giving Up Father" is the best and most reasonable discussion I've found. I ask parishioners and others to please just call me Peggy or Rev. Peggy for all of the reasons you've stated and for another one as well: I put my heart and soul into raising my two boys (now 31 and 29) and I'm not willing to morph the title of mother over to the responsibilities or even the call to serve God in parish ministry. It dilutes the meaning of the two roles. I am still able to be compassionate and pastoral and loving and interested and present to the work and vocation of a priest. But I don't want any of the dysfunctional aspects of parent/child relationships to be part of ministry and I especially don't want a whiff of breastfeeding, diapering, feeding, bathing, to be included in my "job" description. I did, however, with my children, love every bit of that in bringing them into the world.

June Butler said...

Our rector retired yesterday. He was Fr Ed to me. I am 76 years old going on 77, and Ed will be the last clergy addressed as father or mother . My father and mother have passed on, and I feel ridiculous at my age referring to a person younger than I as father or mother. Sorry.

For more formal occasions, Reverend Smith alone makes me cringe. The Rev Smith or Mr or Ms will serve.

I have not yet made the leap to call my bishop by his first name, but I hope to very soon. Yesterday, as I greeted him on the way out of church, I called him Father - uh - Bishop. He said, "I'm still Father, you know." Whatever.

My long-winded 2 cents.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

D&J - I hear you, but I must say that there are just as many RCs who have come to TEC hearing the "Father/Mother" bit and have said, "I'm outta here. This is too close to what I left."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy, I hear you, my dear. Loud and clear.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Peggy - That's very much the way I feel. I love being a mother. That's NOT what I do or who I am in the church. And, when I don't meet someone's expectations of what it means to be "Mother", there's usually hell to pay. Quite literally.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I would love to think that attrition will solve the problem, but there are way too many newbie young priests out there who love being called 'Father'. This one is going to die hard unless some men help us kill it.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, what will the young "Fathers" do? Rebuke me?

If it meant that much to a young man, I'd probably call him "Father", but it would be difficult for me to keep my voice from dripping with sarcasm as I spoke the word.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Mimi, I'm not sure what might happen in Louisiana where, close as I can figure, y'all call your Fathers "Daddy". Even grown men.

Seriously, I would start with "Hello, Mr. Smith". If he objects, I would ask him his preference. If he says, "Just call me "Father" or "Father Joe", say, "Well, now that would be silly for a woman of my age to call a man of your age 'Father', now wouldn't it? If you'd like formality, I shall call you 'Mr. Smith', otherwise, I'll call you what God calls you.... 'Joe'."

That outta get him.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, I will copy your advice and memorize it for future use. Thank you. :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

So, when I hear a rumble out of NOLA, I'll know it's not another Katrina but just Mimi. ;~)

Gillian said...

If simultaneous to the campaign to eliminate "Father" and "Mother" there is a zealous one to resume using "Rev." correctly as an adjective, not a noun, I will leap for joy. In formal situations I would gladly call all my colleagues "The Rev. Mr./Ms./Dr. Lastname" or "The Rev. Firstname" and be called thusly myself. And in informal situations, merely "Firstname."

But I find "Rev. Firstname" or "Rev. Lastname" or "The Rev. Lastname" to be awful and would prefer Father or Mother to that. Heck, I'd go w/ "Pastor" before I'd call myself "Rev." as a noun.

Even if I now see "Rev." being (mis)used even on diocesan websites and on stylesheets promulgated by diocesan directors of communications. AARGH!

I think being able to demonstrate the proper and grammatical use of "Rev." ought to be a GOE question and/or required in order to be enrolled in denominational health or pension plans.

What folks from outside our tradition call us is their business, and I wouldn't be snarky about it, but internally we should use the title properly to how our tradition understands it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Gillian. Good points.

Paul Powers said...

At my early childhood parish (in your newly adopted state), the rector went by "Mister," and even in as Anglo-Catholic a diocese as Fort Worth is, there are a few parishes where the rector is known as "Mister" or "Doctor." I'm not fond of "Father" or "Mother" either, but one problem with Mr./Ms. is that they are often used nowadays by some as a way to indicate non-recognition of someone's orders. This practice leaves a bad taste in my mouth regardless of whether it's "Mr. Iker" or "Ms. Schori (the latter being especially rude given the TEC Presiding Bishop's preference for "Jefferts-Schori").

Something I haven't been able to figure out is why "Priest Smith" sounds so strange. We have no problem with "Deacon Smith," "Bishop Smith," "Canon Smith" or "Dean Smith."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think the "Mrs. Schori" thing is done b/c "Father" is so prominent. If more of us starting using it, it would be less of an insult.

I don't know why "Priest Jones" doesn't work. It should, but it doesn't, does it?

DBW said...

Interesting piece. I'm not sure I agree with it. If I call a male cleric "Father," there's a tremendous amount of respect going behind it. The rest I call by their surnames. Or I call them by nicknames like "Fr Pompous" or "Fr Goofball," or "Fr. Loathsome and Vile" behind their backs. As in "well, it was a Fr. Goofball sermon, what do you expect?" I confess that I tend to call female clerics by their first names, or first and last names. Bishops tend to be referred to as "the Purple Bozo" which is a title given first by my Grandmother to her cousin Bishop James Pike, on the evening she turned on the news and saw him participating in a seance, and has become a generic title for a Bishop who does something that displeases the family. "The Purple Bozo is moving around those poor Deacons again, God bless them." The priests I call "Father" tend to be the trusted ones, the respected ones, the ones who are what I'd call "the real deal."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dale - You seem to have more derogatory than honorific titles for clergy. I'm trying to move away from the "church family" paradigm and more into a "community of prayer" than anything else. If "Father" works for you, I'd like you to think about whether or not all those derogatory - or, at least non-honorific - titles may change if you had different expectations for the behavior of clergy that wasn't associated with "Father". And, where's the equality in calling male clergy "Father" but female clergy by their baptismal names. Do they not get the same "respect"? Just askin'

DBW said...

Well, the clerics in question earn their nicknames, just like the ones called "Father" earn the trust. The bombastic, the pompous, the condescending... they earn their nicknames. As for the double standard, to my own perceptions, calling someone "Father" IS respectful. Calling someone "Mother" bring up associations of emotional blackmail, histrionics, antidepressants, emotional time-bombs... it seems insulting to refer to these female clerics by such a title, as most of them are quite respectable and approachable. Now that I think of it, I do have an uncomplimentary nickname for one of the female clerics, but I'll spare you the nitty gritties of it.

Mary Beth said...

I, like Dale, grew up in the splendidly low Diocese of Texas, though by moving north in the state, things got HIGHER. I consider it an important statement to address my clergy by their Christian names.

No one has objected.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

How can anyone object to baptismal names?

Unknown said...

Since we are all people of God, called in our baptism to ministry in the kingdom...and we recognize that each of us have different gifts for ministry bestowed by the Spirit, I think that using our Baptismal name without titles is the way to proceed. Of course our society sometimes calls for more formality. In those instances we can be Mr, Ms, Mrs who happens to be the priest, deacon, member of St. Luke's Episcopal church etc. Within the Body of Christ/community of faith, our given name is enough.

whiteycat said...

Elizabeth, this posting is right on! I could not agree with you more! I use first names in addressing clergy including my bishop. In a more formal setting I usually introduce the clergy by saying "I'd like you to meet my priest (dean or bishop) Mary or John X." That seems to work just fine.

We definitely need to rid ourselves of the Mommy and Daddy stuff.

Chris Knight said...

Many thanks Elizabeth. I think this is a great idea although not all clergy support it and some are offended by it. It brings a certain intimacy you don't get with the honorifics. My students have the choice of calling me professor or Chris. I like it when they choose the first name. But I'm not everyone.
More and more I've come to enjoy your posts and I think that we are on the same page on most things although I do wander far off the reservation and do not expect to find any Episcopalians when I do. Thanks again for your provocative (in the best way) food for thought.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Chris, Eileen and Whiteycat:

Here's the thing that's tickling me: I wrote this article in 2011. Three years ago. My colleague Bill Doubleday apparently found it and resurrected it.

I agree with what the three of you have written. We need to eliminate titles in the church AND, I think insist on titles where they matter - in the secular world.

I also happen to have some sympathy with parents who wish to teach their children some sense of formal, public politeness, in the same way they greet teachers, doctors, lawyers, police, etc. I'm okay with "Ms." but I understand why some want "Reverend", even if it IS grammatically incorrect.

But "Mother/Father"? It ought to stop. Now.