The following series falls under the category of adiaphora, things that are NOT essential to the Faith. Church tradition has been developed and handed to us by our Christian ancestors over 2000 years. It is important to know and understand the roots elements of our heritage, lest they become tradition just for tradition’s sake or contrary to their original purpose. While traditions can help bring good order, serve as devotional tools, bring elements of beauty, be edifying to the people of God, and can simply just be fun to talk about….none of it replaces salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ or the work of the Great Commission in the world!
The Very Reverend, Your Grace, My Lord, Father, Mr. Dean, Canon, Pastor, Vicar…like the rest of society, the Church has developed systems of customs and protocols relating to forms of address, styles, and titles. Sure, there are those who disregard such things as archaic or pretentious. Though for many they are helpful and beloved ancient traditions that help their faith and life in the Church. The most societies still expect students to address their teachers as Mister or Miss, service-members their superiors by rank or Sir or Ma’am, and patients their providers as Doctor out of respect and good order. Furthermore, as Americans we have a natural aversion to aristocratic sounding titles, but we still use some of them such as “Your Honor” without batting an eye. Even in the Church one would be hard pressed to find any congregation, including the most “non-traditional” ones, where the minister is not called at very least Reverend, Mister, Doctor, Pastor, or Elder. While titles and forms of address are adiaphora, that is things not essential to salvation, many regard them in the same manner as the proper use of vestments, liturgical colors, or nomenclature (e.g. “nave”, “chancel”, “eucharist”). They can foster an atmosphere of historical rootedness, good order, connection with the broader Body of Christ, and spiritual authority of the Church.
Like many traditions, over time the origins and rational can be lost. When such knowledge atrophies, traditions might either be disregarded or misused. Over the series of a posts, I hope to give some of the historical background to ecclesiastical titles according to the Anglican tradition, articulate a formulaic method for their use, and dispel common misuses or misunderstanding often seen today. While I have my thoughts and preferences on the subject, my aim is not to convince anyone to use them, but just help those who wish to understand them better. Honestly, it has just been a fun project!
I have endeavored to study sources as old as I could find. Our current system of ecclesiastical titles did not really take hold until the 19th Century, though it is rooted in older European customs. There are not many sources that clearly articulate the development of these traditions. However a close study of 19th and early 20th Century books, news articles, letters, and other official documents show patterns of use that have helped paint a larger picture. A mere example of a use is not enough proof to its propriety, as in the age before the internet and style guides there was many inconstancies. For example, “The” as in The Reverend is often omitted in historical documents, but this likely either to save ink or space. Two very helpful modern resources are the Debrett’s Handbook and Crockford’s Clerical Directory. It should also be noted that there is no clear consensus on definitions of style, title, form of address, and honorific. They are often used interchangeably. This makes research and explanation more difficult. I will attempt to define terms as historically accurate as I can and remain constant in their usage.
ADDED NOTE: One should always be aware of local custom, pastoral situations, and “the audience” (for lack of a better term). For instance, using academic titles and degrees might not be as appropriate in a local parish, but it may be relevant in an academic setting, conference, cathedral, formal event, or in a publication. In an ecumenical setting a simpler style might be better. Even though “pastor” may not be a historic Anglican title, it is used regularly in some place. Bottom line, in some settings such forms actually could be unhelpful, where in other places it is helpful. Always err on the pastoral side. I will expound more in this in later posts.
Forms of Address
Full Form of Address: This is the most formal and complete use of style, names, post-nominals, and titles. It is what should be used on envelopes, service bulletins, formal introduction (i.e. in a liturgy, ceremony, presentation, etc.), or for formal documents (certificates, awards, etc.). In most cases, the form will be personal (including name, post-nominals, and any other personal titles). Example: The Reverend Mr. John H. Smith, M.Div., Rector of Anywhere. Post-nominals and titles are often left off for less formal situations. In some instances, particularly for titled dignitaries (archbishops, bishops, cathedral or college deans, and archdeacons), an impersonal form can be used on formal occasions. Example: The Very Reverend the Dean of Anywhere or The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Anywhere. The composition of a full form of address can be broken down into honorific style, honorific title, name, post-nominals, and title of position or office.
|Standard Form of Address = Style + Title + Full Name + Post-nominal(s), + Office(s)|
|Formal Dignitary Form of Address = Style + Title + Office|
A blog post will be dedicated to each element of the above. In summary, each can be defined as follows:
Honorific Style: An adjective that is assumed by right of office or bestowed (e.g. by a sovereign, bishop, or institution), for clergy the default being The Reverend.
Honorific Title: A title of society (e.g. Mr./Ms./Mrs.), award or order (e.g. Sir, Dame, Canon, Brother, military rank), or nobility (e.g. Lord), or academic (e.g. Doctor, Professor). This is what is used in first person address after a formal introduction.
Name: In full forms of address it always includes first and middle (spelled out or initials). It should never just be last name or first name. For dignitaries, names can be omitted as their office essentially is their personal name (e.g. “The Lord Bishop of London”).
Post-nominals: Academic degrees, awards, monastic societies, etc.
Title of Office or Position: For example, Bishop of Anywhere, Archdeacon of Anywhere, Dean of Anywhere. Normally this would only be used formally for those in positions of dignity.
There are some general rules and common mistakes that would be helpful to address in this introduction. These will be discussed in detail in this blog series.
- The definite article “the” always precedes forms of Reverend or Venerable.
- The use of Reverend as in “Good morning Reverend” or “I saw Reverend John this morning” is not grammatically proper.
- Use the title Doctor or the post nominal (Ph.D., D.Min, etc.) but not both as it is redundant.
- Those with honorary doctorates (e.g. D.D.) normally only use post-nominals and not the title “Doctor”.
- The use of periods (a.k.a. “full stops”) in style, titles, and post-nominals is normal in U.S context, but not the British.
- The use of Mister or Mr. as a default for all priests and deacons was once common (e.g. The Reverend Mr. Jones, Good morning Mr. Jones, or Mr. Archdeacon).
- Widespread use of Father for Anglican priests was not common until the mid 20th century, mostly only in the U.S.
- Pastor is a duty (of curates, vicars, rectors) and not a title in Anglicanism, historically speaking.
- Clergy is the plural form of cleric. One is not “a clergy”, but a cleric, ordained cleric, clergyman(woman), ordained minister, a clerk in holy, a member of the clergy, or a deacon/priest/presbyter/bishop.
- Laity is the plural form of laic (or laymen, lay woman, or member of the laity).
- Historically, Rural Deans or Area Deans are not entitled to the style The Very Reverend.
- Positional titles and styles (e.g. The Very Reverend, Canon, The Most Reverend) should be should be relinquished upon departure of the office unless otherwise granted “emeritus” status or stipulated by statute.
- Normally, multiple positional styles should not be combined (e.g. The Very Reverend Canon, or The Venerable Canon).
- Your Grace is only appropriate for Archbishops, as it is related to British Archbishops’ ducal (duke) equivelancy.
- “My Lord (Bishop)” is rarely used in the West today, but is in portions of the Global South. It originates from some British bishops being Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords of Parliament.
- Canons historically are specific senior members of a collegiate body at a collegiate church or cathedral, not simply an honorary name for cathedral or diocesan staff.
- Provinces, dioceses, or institutions (i.e. cathedrals, colleges, orders) should stipulate rules of style and title.
- Use of the cross, “+”, before and after clergy names was meant for signatures, not shorthand for titles in written communication, before for bishops and after for priests. “+ +” for Archbishops is a widely accepted use, but not historically proper (Canterbury and York do not use).
The chart below breaks down the most common options for each of the elements in the formula above. (PDF and JPEG below, PDF may not work on all browsers.)
The below are a few examples with explanatory notes.
His Grace the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Justin Welby, DD, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England
This is the full personal form of address for the current Archbishop of Canterbury. He is His Grace because he is an Archbishop and Archbishop’s in England are given similar privileges that Dukes receive (who are styled “His Grace”as well) , although most often this part is left off the full form except for the most formal of occasions. The Right Honorable is added because he is a member of the King’s Privy Council. DD is an honorary doctorate. There is no punctuation in British degree abbreviations, unlike the US (D.D.). He can be personally addressed as “Your Grace” or “Archbishop”.
The Most Reverend Robert W. Duncan, D.D., Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church in North America
Archbishop Duncan has an Honorary D.D. (periods used as per US custom) from Nashotah House, thus it is proper to leave as a post-nominal rather than “The Most Reverend Dr.”. Unlike in the Church of England where retired Archbishops revert to the status and style of Bishop, Archbishop Duncan was granted Archbishop Emeritus (not Primate Emeritus) status and therefore kept his style and title. He often uses “VII Bishop of Pittsburgh” as well (given there is now a IX, VII indicates he is “former”). He is also the Bishop in Residence as St. Peter’s Cathedral, Tallahassee. The bulletins simply list him as “The Most Reverend Robert W. Duncan, D.D., Bishop in Residence.” It is not common practice outside England to include “His Grace” in forms of address such as in Canterbury’s, but it could be considered proper. He can be personally addressed as “Your Grace” or “Archbishop”.
The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, MBE, Dean of Westminster
This is how the current Dean of Westminster (Abbey) is listed on their website (he could include his BA or MA). In lieu of using the post nominal PhD, “Dr” is listed as his honorific title. In 2020 he was made a knight of the Most Excellent Order of. the British Empire (MBE) in 2020, but since he was already ordained he may not use “Sir”. Note that his title is Dean of Westminster, not Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey is not the official name, but rather the “Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster”. He is dean of the chapter (College of Canons) and, like area dean, the dean over the City of Westminster. (No periods/full stops are used as per British custom). He can be personally addressed as “Mr. Dean” or “Dean Hoyle”, or referred to as “The Dean”.
The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Professor The Lord Williams of Oystermouth, PC, PhD, FBA, FRSL, FLSW.
This former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as per tradition, reverts back to the status of “bishop” upon retiremnt and therefore does not retain “The Most Reverend” or “His Grace” as he did in office (though some may unofficially render these honors out of respect). He does retain “The Right Honourable” and the post-nominal “PC” for service on the Queen’s Privy Council while in office. As many former Archbishops of Canterbury, after retirement he was granted life peerage (meaning the title is not hereditary), Baron Williams of Oystermouth. As such, he may be titled “The Lord Williams of Oystermouth”. He was made an Honorary Professor at Cambridge, giving him the right to use “Professor”. He is also in a few societies: Fellowship of the British Academy (FBA), a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL), and a fellow the Learned Society of Wales (FLSW). As a former Archbishop of Wales, he was granted Emeritus status and assumably would be entitled to retain “The Most Reverend” but chooses not to as is custom for retired Archbishops of Canterbury. Using “Doctor” and “Professor” together would not be proper, thus PhD used as a post nominal. He can be addressed as “Doctor Williams”, “Professor Williams”, “Lord Oystermouth”, “Bishop Rowan”
The Reverend Canon Wesley S. Jagoe, M.Div., Canon to the Archbishop
This is my personal full form of address, however I’d normally just leave it as “The Reverend Canon Wesley S. Jagoe” for daily use. I personally omit my B.A. (International Studies) degree only out of modesty and because it isn’t very pertinent to the Church. Having the honorific “Canon” is a bit redundant when my title is”Canon to Archbishop”, but that is my title. You can call me “Wes”, but “Canon Jagoe”, “Canon Wes” are also appropriate!
The Reverend Father John H. Doe, BTh, OSB, Rector of Anywhere.
This hypothetical English rector is a monastic priest in the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB), thus the honorific title of “Father” is included. He holds a Bachelors in Theology at a British university (thus no period/full stops). He is the Rector of the church in Anywhere, England. Specifying the church name (e.g. St. Mary’s) is not necessary for villages or towns with one church. Historically speaking, he is the Rector of the people of the town…not just the church. You can call him “Father Doe” or “Father John” most appropriately.
The Reverend Mr. John W. Doe
This simple form of address could be for any deacon or priest. “Mr.” is the default if he otherwise has no other title (Dr., Canon, Professor, etc.) Likewise, he could simply be addressed as “Mr. Doe”.
As you can see, the customs around styles, titles, and forms of address can be quite complicated, especially outside the U.S. I may be incorrect or incomplete in the information I am providing. I welcome any comments or corrections and will update accordingly. I look forward to several very in-depth posts that will delve into each portion of forms of addresses; talk about various positional title such as vicar, rector, curate, dean, canon, rural dean, archdeacon, metropolitan, primate, parson, etc.; list out post-nominals; and provide more handy charts and examples.
If you have specific questions, please let me know!