Hiding behind titles

Pompous, proud and prelatical

In my former parishes, I was often called Fr Stanley. I liked this, since I am a father, and at least in Derbyshire there was affection in it. But I understand that this is de trop in the Church of Ireland. Here, the tradition seems to be to call me Rev Stanley. I don’t feel particularly reverend, and anyway Rev is properly used with Christian name or initial and surname. My own preference is to be called, at least to my face, Stanley. Or Irreverend Stanley.

Institutions are obsessed with titles and rank. The church, which should know better, is riddled with them. Reverend, Venerable, Canon, Very Reverend, Right Reverend, Most Reverend, Frightfully Reverend, Your Grace. When Michael Parkinson interviewed Robert Runcie, about to become Archbishop and change from being Right Reverend to Most Reverend, Runcie with characteristic wit suggested that his title at that moment was Increasingly Reverend. One of Runcie’s predecessors, Cosmo Gordon Lang complained that his new portrait made him look pompous, proud and prelatical, to which one of his colleagues, the acerbic Bishop Henson, is said to have asked: “To which of those epithets does Your Grace take exception?” All this hierarchical nonsense is a sign of an institution in trouble. It signals a delusional and inward-looking club. Who, outside the club, cares? And if any organisation should care about those outside it, it’s the church.

It’s easy for us clergy to become institutionalized, and to imagine that our little clubby rules are important. I read church publications in which nothing controversial is ever reported and wonder what sort of la-la land they are talking about. How do they relate to real life? If you read the documents that parishes produce when they are looking for new clergy, you quickly learn to read between the lines (see attachment). I wonder how much the blurb for the post I’ve recently left will reflect the job that I knew …

We need to wake up to the fact that people see through this tripe. People see beyond this spin and hypocrisy. Yes, I know it’s easy for me to talk having ‘enjoyed’ rank and title in a former career, but we must try to see that our being obsessed with the churchy club flies in the face of incarnational reality for the world’s population.


5 thoughts on “Hiding behind titles

  1. Reverend and Christian name is particularly ugly.
    When serving at home in Ireland I have asked for ‘Rector’ at public events and, like you, my Christian name in general use.

    I had a terrible run in with a school head teacher who having asked how I wished to be addressed prompt refused to use Rector or Mr Thompson but insisted she would call me reverend Michael to the children. When I assured her that if she did so I would call her Headteacher Sinéad she became very angry indeed…..but it cured her.

    Mad ecclesiastical titles can and should be an endearing and quirky part of our rich story. Much more dangerous is the hidden thirst for control and power.

  2. Is the ‘Your grace’ reference not an atavistic tendency. Some do not recognize the 1833 Act that deprived Cashel of its archbishopric (wasn’t it the same Act that prompted the Oxford Movement?).

    Seir Kieran is an independent, self governing republic.

    All Presbyterian ministers are bishops according to Presbyterian friend of mine.

  3. Thank you Ian. It is indeed absurd! It was very amusing at the buildings meeting at KK to hear one speaker use the term ‘Your Grace’. When in my former career I had a different handle in front of my name, I always said – to students and staff – that that defined my job, not my person. It seems to me that as Rector or whatever of Seir Kieran, you ought to be Bishop, Dean and Archdeacon all rolled into one. In fact, I think we all ought to be bishops. I was brought up Methodist, so am not entirely clear what Bishops are for.

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