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Clergy Status Anxiety

church procession
Recent “energetic” discussions (most energy has been off this site – this is a more-light-than-heat site) about mitres and vestments (yes there will be a further post about vesture here) reminded me of a post which today I’m reblogging in the spirit of throwback Thursday. Associated with this, the discussions have included energy when correct qualifications and titles have not been acknowledged, even if academic competency in one sphere does not necessarily always translate well to another (cf. Richard Dawkins). You are rewarded at the end of this post with an “interesting” video.

If you really want to annoy Anglican clergy … get their titles wrong! Titles are what distinguishes the men from the boys – or whatever the inclusive version of that is.

Into this clergy status anxiety steps Pope Francis. He has basically removed the title of Monsignor (those who hold the title currently may retain it). Reaction to this has been, “it’s just a rumour”, “do you hear that sound? it’s the sound of heads popping in the Presbytery”, or defence of the title (accompanied by a photograph of the defender in the distinguishing monsignor vesture), and even the suggestion Pope Francis would do well to get a food taster.

Back to Anglicans, there are Right Reverends, Most Reverends, Very Reverends, Canons, Venerables, Doctors, Archdeacons, Deacons, Rural Deans, Deans, Non-stipendiary acting priest assistants, Locally Licensed Ordained Non-stipendiary Assistant Ministers, Vicars, Vicar-General, Deputy Vicar General, Priests in Charge, Presiding Bishops, Senior Bishops, Archbishops, Deacon Assistants, Ministry Educators, Chaplains, … the list goes on …

Each with their title, abbreviation, appropriate way to address them or refer to them, order of titles, an ever-increasing number of plusses in front of names… and distinguishing dress and insignia.

Anglican clergy may not know their Greek Aorist from their Dative, but years of training make certain that one doesn’t confuse The Ven. Canon Dr. with The Very Rev. Mr. And if you receive an award, title, or doctorate after ordination, there are careful protocols, stricter than any adherence to doctrine or discipline, about which comes before or after what. The moment a priest is collated (and never confuse ordination, induction, collation, installation, licensing,…!!), out go all the old letterheads and visiting cards to be replaced by flashier ones with new titles and the latest popular font.

Anglican theological debate is at its deepest in discussions whether an archdeacon is above or below a canon.

And the thought of backsliding to a lower status causes such distress in the ageing prelates that you generally retire with the highest title you have attained, whether or not you still function in the role the title would lead one to understand.

Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, (the Order to which Pope Francis belongs, and in which spirituality he is clearly deeply formed), in the Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises challenges us not to prefer riches to poverty, or honour to dishonour [notice the echoes in many of Pope Francis’ actions so far]. My one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to reaching the goal for which I am created – praise, reverence, and service of God. And in Ignatius’ Meditation on the Standard of Christ, Jesus attracts to poverty and humility.

Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Anglicans, don’t you dare put on the wrong clothing! Priests may wear clergy shirts coloured pink or blue or polka-dot, but dare to put on one with even a purplish tinge and you won’t make it through the day without a comment. And dare to wear a pectoral cross – even out of devotion! Or a large bejewelled ring. I’ve seen an official photo of a NZ bishop with no less than three pectoral crosses on.

At significant services, everyone has their appropriate attire to signal not only their status but where they fit in churchmanship (or whatever the inclusive version of that is). Light blue cassocks and matching preaching scarves for canons, copes for archdeacons or above, biretta or cassock and surplice for churchmanship, mitre and cope, mitre and chasuble, biretta with chasuble, no mitre with rochet and chimere,… Not a cope above one’s station. Not a blue scarf out of place.

We can continue to pretend that status is not an issue in the church. We are all equal. Clericalism is not an issue. Recently there was some discussion about a video examining Christendom. The video tried to brush over status: it claimed that the Church “inadvertently” came to hold power in Western history. I loved the response: “Oh, is that palace for me? Goodness! I had no idea.”

I’ve heard a lot of agreement with Pope Francis, and seen a lot of Anglican enthusiasm for him, rah! rah! rah! But I have yet to hear even a single mention in Anglican circles of his wanting simplification of titles and levelling of status…

Your reward for reading this far: interesting video

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27 thoughts on “Clergy Status Anxiety”

  1. Wow, and the bride and her attendants haven’t even arrived yet! :p

    Does her train have to be twice the length of that guy’s train?

  2. Oh, that we could just use “Reverend” (or “Reverend Doctor” where appropriate), followed by the role actually filled: “the Reverend Marge Tefft, Parish Priest, Holy Trinity, Greymouth”; “the Reverend Bosco Peters, Chaplain, Christ’s College”; “the Reverend Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch”; “the Reverend Doctor Andrew Burgess, Principal, Bishopdale Theological College”; and so on.

    In procession, ++, +, and parish priest first, then everyone else in alphabetical order.

    Seems more in keeping with the humility of Christ, to me.

    1. Well that feels like one step forward. But, Trevor, why would you use “Reverend Doctor”, in a church context, when the doctorate was in, say, Chemistry? Blessings.

      1. At what point do we draw the line and decide that one is a Doctor of the Church, PhDs & ThDs only, or might an EdD also apply in some cases?

        I remember the Revd Dr Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, she was an MD and a Freudian/Jungian psychiatrist. She also later earned an MDiv and was ordained an Episcopal priest. She was employed at my seminary as a full professor of Pastoral Care, is her doctoral degree allowed?

      2. Jeffery BeBeau

        I’ve seen an MD distinguished from a DMin, etc., by having the Doctor come before Reverend. It gets really interesting if you have a military chaplain who also has a doctorate. Also, don’t forget the post nominal initials. 🙂

        1. I love it, Jeffery! Yes, military chaplains have titles here that are even more obscure – looking like “Chaplain Class 1 (GPCAPT) …” Blessings.

        2. I’ve only seen US military chaplains referred to by their rank.

          But I remember a Canadian chaplain who was Captain the Reverend Doctor So-&-so.

      3. I see that the discussion has raced ahead. My initial thought was that, if a person’s doctorate was clearly relevant to their calling in the Church, it would be useful to note it within their title. Rev. Andrew Burgess’s PhD, earned in systematic theology would be a case in point.

        However, the discussion has led me to think that the process of deciding whether or not various outlier doctorates (e.g., in Education) should also be included opens the door to a great waste of time, and (dare we say it of our sainted clergy?) petty jealousies. Best not to include “Doctor”.

        However, were it to be included, please note that in my pipe dream it would not affect processional order.

        1. PS. When I say “++, + and parish priest” at the head of the procession, I mean only one of each – bishops visiting from a different diocese would take their alphabetical place. And wouldn’t it be great for the congregation to sometimes see a bishop and an assistant priest walking side-by-side, mid-procession?

          1. Processions clearly need a serious rethink, Trevor. I regularly see the leader of the community go to the front, welcome people, give instructions, and then walk out only to immediately walk back in at the end of a procession. What was all that about – this coming in twice?! Blessings.

          2. Processions are rather boring today. They are rarely filled with the joy & enthusiasm, nor are they bursting with celebration that my possibly faulty memory recalls from my favorite liturgy professor at SMU.

            She recalled that processions began in the pre-Constantinian times, when the whole city was but one congregation, lead by one bishop pastor. Folks in the suburbs would begin making their way to the assembly and singing psalms, hymns & spiritual songs as they went. As groups met at crossroads, the processions got bigger until together they all arrived at the assembly hall and marched in to begin worship. Everyone was equal, they first were last and the last were first, etc. Everyone held everything in common.

            Hopefully its true, at least a smidgin. I’ve been led to believe that she didn’t know of what she spoke.

          3. I think you are right, David. Our processions are now often so unprocession-like that we regularly have to tell people – we arrive in a procession from our homes; coming forward at communion is a procession;… Beyond such ‘processions’, it has been a while since I have processed as part a whole congregation (other than say Palm Sunday,…) Blessings.

  3. The only name that carries any meaning in the church and the only one we should ever be called by is the one given us at the font. It is the one Jesus knows us by.

    1. It’s interesting you should say that, Kelvin. In “behind the scenes” private discussions around these posts, it was noted that people nearly always refer to me simply as “Bosco” – even in the most formal of situations. Blessings.

  4. Jeffery BeBeau

    Let’s not forget high church clergy, who are inclined to use Father as an ecclesiastical title. I have seen “The Reverend Father” or “Rev. Fr.” many times.

  5. Peter Carrell

    Is the chemistry about what happened when oxygen and hydrogen mixed on the second day? Or perhaps, noting other news this week, a vital piece of research into the impact of gluten on confection of bread? Much rides on these matters, Bosco, and they should not be taken lightly, as though some kind of froth and bubble, or even helium issue is at stake!
    PS I do like Trevor’s point re one and only one only kind of Reverend with no Most, Right, Very qualifiers.
    PPS Please, please can we drop “Venerable”. It sounds like either Vulnerable or Rather Elderly …

    1. Yes, Peter. I also like the idea of a single title – but can already see a battle happening between those who would want that to be “Father” and those who oppose “Father” 🙂 And we both know that “The Venerable Canon Dr” is not a made-up mock title. Ps. I can see at least two fields developing: Theological Chemistry and Chemical Theology… Blessings.

  6. Even simpler, still why not just their name followed by their position. I am John Clapton, Minister (or Priest in Charge if you like)at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Hamersley. Being without an Archbishop at the moment, perhaps I could then introduce the Archbishop of Melbourne as Philip Frier, Archbishop of Melbourne. We all have a name, chosen or given to us, and we all have a role or function given to us in the Church. Let these two things alone stand together.

    Some are suggesting that our currently revealed problems with child sexual abuse have to do with our veneration of people according to their titles. They may or may not be right. But it could be timely to find ways of diminishing the place of such things.

    Armed Forces Chaplains accumulate rank as they serve and I am sure some of them relish the brass they get this way, but in the Navy they all stand as equals under the name Padre (I’m not sure about those chaplains of the female gender with respect to the term Padre). Could be good.

    1. Thanks, John. Remember that this discussion has a significant source in the suggestion that our currently revealed problems with child sexual abuse is connected to wearing mitres! The “Padre” for women is another discussion – I have heard both sides: those who want “Father” for priests who are women, and those who want “Mother” – in which case it becomes “Madre”. Blessings.

  7. When I started at my first parish I was asked; “what would you like to be called?” Jon is good, I’d respond and then they’d reply; “Ok, Father Jon.”

    In some instances, like mine, I’ve discovered that the titling of clergy comes from others who have a need to classify and sort. The danger comes, I think, when I begin to need the title and the perceived status it confers.

    Left to my own devices, I’d go with Jon White, Minister in any kind of setting where my name and relationship needs to be communicated. However, I recognize that many of my colleagues treasure these tokens in the same way that they love wearing clergy collars everywhere.

    I will say that there is a big caveat here, and that has to do with women clergy. I’ve spoken to many of my female colleagues and ear that the clergy attire and the titles can help bolster their status in a still largely hostile church. So I’m not seeing a clear path forward in any of this.

    As a PS, I was a Very Rev for awhile. Though I never used it, it was a tickle to see the mail from the diocesan offices so addressed.

    1. Thanks, Jon. In my experience, clergy continue to be called by their “highest” title even after they have ceased to function in the role to which that title applies. As to wearing a clerical collar – when I wear it I’m far more conscious of the scandals, controversies, and nonsense that clergy, the church, and Christianity are justifiably known for than any sense of it increasing my status. Blessings.

  8. Ah, yes. Coming from a hospital chaplaincy background, I was called Pastor/Reverend/Sister, and my preferred, Chaplain Elizabeth. (Thus, my Twitter handle, @chaplaineliza) And, for the past three years, I am now a pastor-by-surprise (God’s surprise! at a church that really was in need of pastoral care at the time) at a small church in the Chicago suburbs which is rejoining the United Church of Christ. Yes, I am the Rev. Elizabeth Jones. Yes, I went through an extended period of shock to be referred to by all and sundry as simply “Pastor.”

    I guess my Lutheran upbringing and my extended Presbyterian sojourn has not overly affected me with a craving for special clerical/ecclesiastical titles. 😉

  9. Chris Darnell

    Great discussion thanks The Reverend Chaplain Peters. Out of curiosity, at what level are these titles defined in the NZ Anglican context? If there was to be a desire for change (which I’m for) is it a diocesan or provincial protocol?

    1. Do you know, Chris – I have no idea. I love the question. I suspect it sits with the very English approach to English (which also explains a lot of things Anglican). Other languages have a central authority. English does not. I suspect we down here in the colonies simply follow mother England’s titles. And mother England probably has developed it much as debates in grammar and spelling are dealt with. Blessings.

  10. Shirley Bowen

    I heard a group of postulants for the vocational diaconate told that in no uncertain terms could they use the +. A comment from the peanut gallery said, “so much for full and equal orders.” I suggested that we all, priests and deacons and laity begin using = instead.

    Of course, I’m waiting for my male colleagues to give up on using Fr. so my female colleagues don’t feel compelled to take on Mother.

    I know Rev. isn’t a title, but perhaps it should be transformed into one. Everyone calls me Reverend or Reverend Shirley. Those we serve could care less that we distinguish between descriptor and title. That’s what they see written and that’s what they say.

    1. Thanks, Shirley. If you poke around this site, you’ll find a lot of my interest in equality between the four orders. Somewhere, earlier, there’s been a pointing to some who see “Fr” as non-gender specific. What is the issue with “Mother” as an equivalent? It has a very long history. Blessings.

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