Deacons and priests: tasks and titles: an introduction
Names are important to us. When we are baptized, we are baptized with our given names, usually a first and a middle name. We are sealed as Christ’s own with an earthly name.
Titles are sometimes important, too. We teach our children to say “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ma’am,” and “Sir” as a sign of respect for the person. Many of us are familiar with calling our priest “Father” or “Reverend.” What do we do when our rector is a woman?
Let’s step back a bit. In the Episcopal Church, clergy includes priests and deacons. There are two types of deacons: vocational and transitional. Vocational deacons are called to the diaconate as their life-long ministry; it is a calling to a “special ministry of servanthood directly under” the person’s bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, deacons serve all people, “particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely (BCP, 543).” The vocational deaconate is an ordained clergy role, and is most often a “non-stipendiary” position, meaning that deacons to do not get paid for their vocation.
Deacons may use “Reverend” as a title, as in: Reverend Jones, a formal title. A more informal address would be Reverend Lucy. Some deacons prefer to use the title “Deacon” in order to distinguish their ministry as a deacon: Deacon Lucy, then, or Deacon Jones.
Transitional deacons are those deacons who anticipate being ordained to the priesthood. After a time of diaconal ministry, usually six months to a year in length, transitional deacons are ordained to the priesthood. A priest is called to a ministry as “pastor, priest, and teacher.” A priest is to “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ…to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.” A priest is entrusted “to proclaim forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the” Eucharist (BCP 531).
Priests also use the title “Reverend.” Male priests in the Episcopal Church often use the title “Father”: Father Tom or Father Jones.
Women priests often use the title “Reverend,” as men do. Women priests may use the title “Mother”: Mother Lucy or Mother Jones. We can look at the history of the use of “Mother” for women priests in our educational time. This history includes the very recent history of using “Father” for male priests….You may guess that there are many opinions and conversations about how clergy persons identify themselves. Some choose not to use either “Father” or “Mother” based on Matthew 23:9 or for other reasons. We could have a lively conversation about names, titles, and the Bible!
What, then, do we call Catherine, our rector? You may certainly call me Catherine, my given name. As a priest, I generally use the title Mother – Mother Catherine. I often use Reverend in telephone introductions, formal situations, and in written correspondence. I appreciate individual theologies and needs, so let’s talk about that together. Overall, use the name and title that is comfortable and appropriate for the situation.
We are by any name children of God, sealed as Christ’s own forever in the waters of our baptism.