Addressing a Priest

Hey, “Father” Smith!

Why are you called “Father Smith”?  Where I grew up, we called the minister “Brother James”.  My best friend growing up called his minister “Pastor Paul”.  I read that you have a first name.  I’ve even overheard a few people call you simply “Stuart”.  As usual, I’m confused.  What’s in a name, after all?!?

Good questions!  I was raised in a southern Methodist Church, and we called our minister “Reverend Sam”.  In every single Episcopal Congregation I’ve been associated with- as layman and as a Priest- the ordained minister was called “Father____”, with either the first or last name inserted after the “Father”.

The Diocese of Ft. Worth is an Anglo-Catholic (a reformed catholic) diocese in which the overwhelming consensus is that the priests should be called “Father”, rather than other titles…and rather than by first names.

When I arrived in Granbury in 2006, I was very courteously asked “what do you want to be called?”.  To which I answered: “Father Smith”.

As to the “Why”, that’s a bit controversial, I’m afraid.  As you may know, some people have been raised to believe that it is spiritually wrong to call any mere man by the title of “Father”.  Many Protestant denominations teach their members that the title “Father” is a Roman Catholic “thing” and should be left to them!   These same people will not flinch to call their biological begetters “Father”, and other unrelated men “Mister” (which is a derivative of “Master”).

From the Catholic (remember, not “Roman”) perspective, the Priest of the Church serves as a spiritual “father” to every member of the congregation.  A Priest is not a business executive, or a branch manager of a franchise…or, for that matter, a therapist or a professor.  When I was prepared for the priesthood, I was taught that I was to remember that the parish as a whole (and each member thereof) is part of the “Bride of Christ”.  That means that I am to treat every one of you as a cherished “wife” … and that I function as a “Father” to the GSAC congregation

This is- of course- a spiritual designation…not to be taken literally.

In 27 years of ordained ministry, I have folk who insist on calling me “Stuart”.  Not once in those years, have I corrected anyone.  As long as you’re not “cussing” me, what you call me is on your conscience…not mine.  I prefer to be called “Father” because that is the sacred tradition of this diocese and this parish.  However, I’m going to serve as your “Father in God” whatever you name me.    

Love in Christ, Father Smith