on Saturday, 31 October 2015 at 11.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Michael Ainsworth Law & Religion UK Hymns (and other things) to avoid?
Giles Fraser Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 On being called “Father”, Bishops in the Lords, & other clerical absurdities
Simon Rundell “Call No Man Father…”
Ian Paul Are we being honest about ordination training?
Mercifully the Book of a Common Prayer sets the record straight and, as ever, comes to our rescue. The opening words of the Making of Deacons and the Ordering of a Priests are – “Reverend Father in God”. The service for the Consecration of Bishops includes these words “”Most Reverend Father in a God”
If it’s good enough for the BCP then that’s fine by me.
Re Simon Rundell. “The New Testament is filled with examples of and references to spiritual father-son and father-child relationships”
Notwithstanding, the whole notion of the in loco parentis in terms of both polity and pastoral relationships is completely dysfunctional.
Simon Rundell’s explanation of “father-child” relationships in the church was clear and biblical. A number of people, though, (and the number may be significant) find the father-child analogy problematic in terms of their personal history. Rod Gillis makes a valid point. Those people who have experienced abuse within family relationships certainly would have difficulty with trust and committing to a relationship based on “father/mother-child”. Sensitivity is required at all times in pastoral relationships.
@ Pam, “Those people who have experienced abuse …have difficulty with trust … committing to a relationship based on “father/mother-child”. Good point; but not one I was thinking about when I posted my comment. The use of the term “father” ( or mother) is metaphorical and problematic. In the case of,for example, “Reverend father in God” the metaphor is clearly patriarchal. As much as anything it tends to the notion of obedience. The view that Simon Rundell’s explanations are some how “biblical” may mean several things. I suggest they are biblical primarily in the sense that they are hopelessly patriarchal.… Read more »
From the point of view of those in religious life, the term ‘Reverend Mother’ is commonplace, but applied with nuance and sensitivity. I am involved/associated with two convents: in one the leader eschews the term, to avoid undue paternalism/maternalism. In the other, which is more catholic in tradition, the term is used with meaning, but not with any sense of authoritarianism. On the contrary, the reverend mother prefers just to be called ‘sister’ most of the time – however, the term ‘mother’ is still recognised as valuable and meaningful. Personally, I find the title ‘Father’ helpful, perhaps because my own… Read more »
If you find the idea of hierarchy incompatible with Christianity, I can’t quite see why you’re a member of the Church of England.
I have always considered titles such as “Father Robert” or “Bishop John” a courtesy title that others give to you and are not something that you give yourself…in a way they have to be earned. For myself I have always preferred the name given to me at my baptism, and just my name without any handle at the front. Status anxiety is not attractive, nor is giving ourselves titles just to ensure a certain distance or to bolster position and authority. I find it really distasteful to hear perhaps an elderly member of the congregation calling the priest “Father” and… Read more »
Pam, I was not abused in childhood and had a good relationship with my parents. It can also sometimes be healthy for two people to establish a quasi-parental relationship based on a close personal bond and the needs of one or both. But I am puzzled by the notion that, the moment someone is a priest, my relationship to him (or occasionally her) should ideally be that of a child to a parent, especially since a healthy relationship between an actual parent and child becomes more equal as the younger of the two grows up. As a fifty-three year-old lay… Read more »
@ Sam, “If you find the idea of hierarchy incompatible with Christianity, I can’t quite see why you’re a member of the Church of England.” This is a rather categorical view, without nuance. The Anglican Church of Canada,for example, is a church which has long been described as one with episcopal leadership and synodical government. It is a continuing struggle to temper the former, indeed to keep it from regressing, within the context of the latter. There are a number of issues at play in just that regard. For example, with the advent of women presbyters and bishops, the phrase… Read more »
Rod writes, “In the case of, for example, “Reverend father in God” the metaphor is clearly patriarchal. As much as anything it tends to the notion of obedience”.
As in the oath of canonical obedience, which all those wishing to hold licence within my diocese and jurisdiction are required to swear to me?
And as in my oath of obedience that lies at the heart of the monastic tradition that I inhabit as a Franciscan?
Like anything else, obedience can be abused, but it remains a rich and important ecclesiological concept.
@ David Walker, re Oath of Canonical obedience and monastic vows. David, I certainly take your point. I can’t speak to the monastic situation; but I’m guessing that obedience in that setting is contextualized within the notion of the religious community? As presbyters in the parochial system we function under an oath of canonical obedience. Here,the word canonical is not unimportant. One’s bishop is bound by the same body of canon law, of course, and is not above the law, episcopal prerogatives not withstanding. And, as a former archdeacon, I found it interesting at the time, how skilled some clergy… Read more »
Thanks to Rod and Savi, particularly, for their replies to my comment. In answering Savi’s question, a newly-ordained 30 year old becomes a spiritual father to a person considerably older by demonstrating humility and respect combined with guidance. The older person’s behaviour should reflect humility and respect combined with guidance. BTW, the person who has suffered abuse in a family relationship as a child and now a member of a congregation may have a problematic relationship with God as well. Prayer can help.
Well! What a storm in a teacup, indeed!
As a traditional, and yet progressive Anglo – Catholic, I was brought up to the idea of the title ‘father’ for a priest – to signify the respect due to the office. I rather enjoy the element of trust implied, and shall not discourage those who deign to use it – of myself, or anyone in holy orders.
I am now one month short of my 30th anniversary as a Priest, and for all that time I have been quite ambivalent about the use, by me and others, of the title “Father”. My own father was an Anglo-catholic archdeacon, a man of considerable fame within New Zealand, and a father in God, in the Pauline sense to many clergy here, such as Fr Ron Smith. He was ALWAYS Father Prebble, except when the more functional title Archdeacon Prebble was more appropriate. He would probably have accepted all the arguments put forward by Simon Rundell. I have always been… Read more »
@ Edward Pebble, a terrific post! Thanks so much.Your last line is especially poignant. I’ve found all the comments posted by others so far to be very interesting. One of the qualities that makes them interesting is their ground in experience, varied though those are. Having been around the block over time, as rector,archdeacon, canon, I’ve been in different places with the title thing. I encouraged parishioners to call me by the name I was baptized with i.e. just call me Rod ( well, o.k., its the short form of Roderick). However, I hope I was sensitive to those who… Read more »
There is a certain conceit in assuming that the honorific of Father embraces any sense of paternity or patriarchy. To me it is an honorific empty of any more meaning than Mr, or Madam.
@ Kate, “To me [father] is an honorific empty of any more meaning than Mr, or Madam.” At a common sense level you have a point. I suspect that when, for example, the local Roman Catholic priest is referred to by all and everyone as “Father”, it is often as you say. Something similar could be said of the moniker “padre” when directed at clergy of various denominations by members and former members of the military. However,with regard to patriarchy, common sense is not the last word by any means. The fact that the title develops from and is advocated… Read more »
Looking at the different interpretations here, there is definitely a Humpty Dumpty feel about the use of the term. It seems to mean whatever the person applying it to themselves and the person using it understand it to mean in any given context at any one time. I feel like Kate, whatever people applying the term to themselves may think they’re doing, I only ever use it as an empty honorific. Depending on how I know and assess the person who applies the term to themselves, I then either judge them to be pompous, a bit too full of themselves,… Read more »
When he was teaching me (and others) Theology of the Priesthood, the late Urban T. Holmes, then Dean of the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, instructed us, “Let others decide what they will call you or what they will teach their children to call you. It will tell you a great deal about them.” He was certainly right. In those days there were significant regional differences within the United States about Episcopal Church practice (I’m being careful not to speak about our dioceses outside the United States, simply because I don’t have that information). On the Eastern seaboard one… Read more »
On arriving at my new parishes, a little while ago, I was told that I should ask to be called Father. Since this was what I was also told people would like to call me I acquiesced to the request. One of my first pastoral encounters was with someone who asked me why they should call me father. My reply was there was no reason why they should, unless they wanted to, that my name was Adrian and I was happy to be called it. It all comes down to Peirce’s semiotics, and the difference between the triadic elements of… Read more »
Simon Rundell says: “This was also a temptation in the Jewish world of Jesus’ day, when famous rabbinical leaders, especially those who founded important schools, such as Hillel and Shammai, were highly exalted by their disciples. It is this elevation of an individual person—the formation of a “cult of personality” around him—of which Jesus is speaking”
So the biggest offence has been done to Jesus then, by escalating him to such ‘guru’ status, precisely against what he is warning about. It is also similar to Gandhi, who wanted no cult growing around his name either.
FWIW, growing up in the Episcopal Church in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, it was always “Father” (however, I heard from my mother, also growing up there in the 1930s and 1940s, for her it was always “Mister”). It’s definitely both a time AND regional difference [Also FWIW: of all the Episcopal-priests-who-are-women I’ve known since the late 1970s (maybe 50?), precisely *1* preferred to be called “Mother”.]
Well that was a good discussion on the titles we or others give to us. Now what about the use of the plus sign or cross that a bishop gives him or herself before their signature. Pretentious or what?
… like suffixing certain names at All Souls’ Day Requiem Masses or Services of Remembrance with the words “priest” or “bishop” making them stand out amongst hundreds of others? Perhaps it is just an illiteracy “mark” they used a long time ago: tradition?
Can anyone shed light on when the use of “Father” as a form of address or title came in as opposed to being descriptive (as in Desert Fathers)?
@ Robert Ellis, interesting observation. And, if one is an Archbishop its not just + before your name but ++ and so a double whammy. Of course some priests use the + after their name, so + George is Bishop George, not to be confused with ++ George the Archbishop nor with the humble parish priest Father George +. Add to this ( as it were) the convention of Bishop’s signing documents and correspondence not with their surname but with the name of their diocese attached, e.g. yours sincerely + George, Banana Land, which in this example is interpreted to… Read more »
I think we should all feel proud to put a + after our names. I sometimes do it, as a sign of being Christian. Anyone can.
After a while of doing it, someone pointed out the supposed significance of the + after the name (up to that point I simply didn’t realise).
I can’t say I’m really fussed one way or the other.
There is real life going on out there. It’s sort of hard to take these things that seriously.
In the Apprentice, Alan Sugar expects to be addressed as “Lord Sugar” whereas Karen Brady is plain “Karen”. Both are Members of the House of Lords. Which comes across as the more approachable, the less arrogant?
The rot set in our Secondary schools when pupils started calling teachers by their Christian names rather than “Sir” or “Miss”. Similarly in political circles respect plummets when it is “Call me Tony” or “Call me Dave” rather than “Yes, Prime Minister”
Rod Gillis @ 1407 on 3 November: : And, if one is an Archbishop its not just + before your name but ++ and so a double whammy. In my experience the ++ by an archbishop and the post-nominal + by a priest are affectations from North America. They are not used in the four Anglican churches in the Atlantic Isles. In the Church of England, the practice of bishops signing with the name of their See is a relic from the time when all the bishops of the English church were also members of the upper house of parliament… Read more »
@ Kate, “In the Apprentice, Alan Sugar expects to be addressed as ‘Lord Sugar’ whereas Karen Brady is plain “Karen”. Both are Members of the House of Lords. Which comes across as the more approachable, the less arrogant?’ As Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes might say of such a dilemma, isn’t it delicious. @ RPNewark, Canadian bishops are often referred to as “Lord Bishop” and some still attach that to official correspondence. Canadian Anglicans have a sometimes tendency toward colonial lag. Being a wild colonial boy, it’s a situation I like to satirize as often as I can. It’s what comes… Read more »
At the Anglican Digest in the 1960s, we sought to reform the Church through nomenclature. Father Foland, our founder, had us refer to people in the news by their titles: The Ninth Bishop of Nebraska, the Rector of St.James’, Indianapolis, etc. We endlessly repeated that “Rev’d” was an adjective that couldn’t apply to a family name: it had to be attached to something personal, a name or title — the Rev’d John Smith, the Rev’d Mr. Smith. “Reverend” used alone as a title was illiterate. Forty-five years later, I find such linguistic certainty dubious. Language is usage, and the common… Read more »
Rod, I agree there are arguments against the idea of hierarchy. I just don’t get why you’d be Anglican if you accepted them, when a sacred hierarchy (bishops, priests and deacons) is essential to Anglican belief.
@ Sam, you seem to be confusing hierarchy with the three fold ministry of deacons, presbyters and bishops. We affirm the historic episcopate locally adapted. I’m proposing an adaptation, eh. Also, take a look at B.E.M: Baptism, Ministry, Eucharist, faith and order paper of the WCC which enjoys wide ecumenical support, including support among Anglicans. Hierarchy has more to do with politics than the “sacred”.
“Forty-five years later, I find such linguistic certainty dubious. Language is usage, and the common use of “Reverend” has much to recommend it. It avoids the patriarchal overtones of Father and the strangeness of the not-really analogical Mother.” – Murdoch – Are Anglicans the only episcopal community that question the title ‘Father’ for a male priest. I wonder? The majority of Christians in the world – either Orthodox or Roman Catholic – still use this title and seem happy to do so. It is not a matter of merely being an ‘honorific’ but it is also an appropriate way of… Read more »