Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is your Title disposable?

I have not historically been a big fan of calling the parish pastor "Father". I'm by no means opposed to it - I'm not one of those people who get their knickers in a bunch if someone calls them "Father ______". It's not a matter of Rome-ophobia, but rather familiarity. I'm used to calling one of the clergy "Pastor _______".

Oklahoma threw that a bit - I'm called Pastor, but I'm also more apt to hear other terms as well - this is my minister, this is the preacher. And I just had a thought. Pastor is a wonderful term - I am a shepherd of God's people. Excellent. A minister - I do minister, fine a good term. I hope I preach. But there is just something different about the term "Father".

"Father" implies a direct, personal relationship - not just a function. A pastor - sure, today, right now, but maybe not later -- like my barber, or my pharmacist. I might change if I want to.

You don't get that with "Father". There is a relationship, a sense of belonging - both ways. A gal wouldn't normally ask some other Father to give her away at a wedding. . . but she'd ask another pastor to do her wedding, or to baptize her kid, because this other pastor is her mom's cousin's brother-in-law's nephew.

The difference between Father and all the other titles - a Father is what you get and you have and that's it. . . the other ones seem. . . disposable.

I don't know how coherent or insightful this is - I just got back from being at the hospital at 6 in the morning, but it's something to think about. If we call our clergy simply by a function or role instead of a relationship, should be be surprised if people shop for others in that function or role?


William Weedon said...

Beautiful. I never correct one who uses that title, but like you, I'm used to be called "Pastor." To me that will always be the preferred title (and it's intimate in its own way), and yet you are quite sound in noting the permanency. I might add one more dimension: it would follow then that the parishioners are (as they are indeed in German) Pfarrkinder. It suggests the entire familial way of relating is the normal one for the Church.

Father Hollywood said...

Another nice thing about "Father" is that it is a confession against women's "ordination." You can have a "Pastor (sic) Karen" but not a "Father Karen." The latter reveals the ridiculous incongruity of female "pastors." Sex is an ontological, not a functional, characteristic.

Nor do Episcopal priestesses want to be called "Mother." There is an intuitive understanding that "mothers" and "fathers" are not interchangeable.

The Society of the Holy Trinity, for example, does not use the term "father confessor" as they count "ordained" women as members. Instead, they have gender-neutralized the term to the bland and bloodless bureaucratic-sounding "confessor."

In New Orleans, I'm addressed in all sorts of ways as well, though usually as "Fawdah" or "Pyastuh."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, the thing that makes me worried about "Father" is before you were "Father Hollywood" you had black hair. . . now look at it O.o!!!

Carl Vehse said...

When giving yourself the title "Father" on your church business cards, church newsletters, church bulletin board, and in your Lutheran blog signature, don't forget the scriptural reference, "Mt. 23:8" underneath.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Carl:

Absolutely! And don't forget Acts 7:2 or SA III:XV:27 either!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


And the next time you hear the little kids singing "Father Abraham" just backhand them across the room! And if you run into a brit at Christmas time, deck him and say, "It's Santa Claus, not Father Christmas, you rotten limey!"

Of course, that is why I prefer Padre. . . and they are a baseball team too!

Father Hollywood said...

And notice that the Lord doesn't say "allow no-one to call you father..." but rather "call no man father..."

If the Lord means this literally, then *we* are forbidden to use the address "Father" under any circumstances, whether for our own dads, or for the local Roman Catholic pastor.

Jesus also says we are not "to be called teacher." So that means "Rabbi" for the local Jewish preacher is out the door, as well as "Doctor" for the college prof or the pastor who has a Ph.D. And what in the world do we Lutherans do with our "called teachers"? My goodness!

Moreover, maybe Matt 5:29-30 means we should be mutilating ourselves - unless Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point about attitudes. Hmmm.

I think Father Doctor Martin Luther understood the Bible pretty well. ;-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Father Hollywood is going to become Father Origen?

Carl Vehse said...

If the Lord means this literally, then *we* are forbidden to use the address "Father" under any circumstances, whether for our own dads, or for the local Roman Catholic pastor.

This is as silly as claiming that Mt 26:28 is a reference to all wine produced from then on, or that the context of Mt. 23:9 is the same context as Mt. 5:29-30. In the Scriptural context of v.9, our Lord's command to "call no man father" refers to honorific title not to be used for the disciples he was with as well as other religious leaders of his Christian followers, and by implication to people in the Church today. In v. 9, our Lord is not referring to such strawmen as biological or adoptive fathers, Abraham (as the father of the progeny promised by God), George Washington (as the father of our country), a baseball team, and the like.

As for his SA reference to Martin Luther, Brixus Northanus, who refers to himself as "Minister", not "Father Northanus," we should be thankful that he didn't accidentally misspell Luther's name or else there would be pressure to misspell it today to maintain our confessional orthodoxy. ;-)

Jesus also says we are not "to be called teacher."

Regarding the title our Lord prohibits in v.10, the Greek word (kathegetes) used in Jesus' statements in Mt. 23 is not the Greek word (didaskalos) for teacher used elsewhere in the New Testament. Apples and oranges!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Carl:

Nice try.

Luther was addressed as "Reverend Father" right up until the day he died. Lutherans all over the world have made, and continue to make use of, the title. It is petty and provincial to judge Lutheranism by the quirks and irregularities of the way we Americans practice it.

The Lord is not prohibiting the terms "Father" and "Rabbi" in and of themselves - but rather calling it a sin to be enamored of the terms and the authority and respect accorded fathers and teachers.

The same is true of generals, admirals, presidents, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, fathers of the family, lay elders, school crossing guards, and airline pilots.

Jesus is not condemning authority. Jesus is no democrat or anticleric. He established a hierarchical universe and he established the pastoral office - and he does commend people to respect their fathers, teachers, and pastors - even as Luther speaks of pastors as "spiritual fathers" in the LC.

Our Lord is warning all people under authority not to see that authority as self-originating nor to think too highly of themselves.

And I do hope you have a happy Father's Day!