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A word on ecclesiastical titles

December 12, 2009

From a leaflet picked up inside Christ Church, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. One has to endorse and admire formality that isn’t stuffy, but merely respectful, which is formality’s actual purpose.

People often wonder (and ask) what to call a person ordained in the Episcopal Church. While this is, of course, always subject to preference or local custom, here is a (not so) brief guideline of what to call bishops, priests, and deacons:

BISHOP: The word Bishop comes from the Greek word episkopos (έπίσκοπος, from έπί “over” and σκοπός “seeing”) which can be translated as overseer, superintendent, supervisor, the first, leader, or foreman. From the word episkopos are derived the English words episcopacy, episcopate, and episcopal. The system of church government by bishops is called episcopacy. A bishop is a chief minister (servant) or chief pastor (shepherd) in the Episcopal Church, serving a number of churches that make up a diocese. A large diocese may have more than one bishop. In that case the chief bishop is called the diocesan, or ordinary. Assisting bishops are usually called suffragan bishops. An assisting bishop who will succeed the ordinary is a bishop coadjutor. In conversation all are addressed as “Bishop” (and LAST or FIRST NAME) (“How are you, Bishop?” or “What do you think, Bishop Smith?” or “May I introduce you to Bishop John?”). When writing a bishop, the form is The Right Reverend FIRST LAST NAME, and then Dear Bishop FIRST or LAST NAME.

The Right Reverend John Smith
Bishop of N
123 Church Street
Your Town, Your State 00000

Dear Bishop Smith:

PRIEST: This word comes from a Greek word, by way of Middle English preist from Old English prēost from Late Latin presbyter from Greek πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) or πρέσβυς (presbus), presbyter, meaning elder. Usually a priest is the chief minister in a congregation. While forms of address depend upon the priest’s preference and local custom, in general in conversation a priest is addressed as Father (or Mother), with the LAST name, less often with the FIRST name, and less commonly, as Mister or Miss/Mrs./Ms. with the LAST NAME. If a priest has a Title (Vicar, Rector, Dean, Archdeacon, Canon), then the form may be the Title Alone (“How are you today, Vicar/Dean/Archdeacon/Canon?”), or (also if the priest holds a doctorate) with the Title and LAST NAME (“May I introduce you to Dean/Archdeacon/Canon/Doctor LAST NAME?”), or directly for Deans, “Mister/Madam Dean” or “Very Reverend Sir/Madam”, and Archdeacons “Venerable Sir/Madam”. When writing a priest the form is to use The Reverend FIRST NAME LAST NAME (priest) / The Very Reverend (dean), The Venerable (archdeacon) / The Reverend Canon (canon) / The Reverend Dr. (priest with doctorate), and then Dear Mister/Miss/Father/Mother/Dean/Archdeacon/Canon/Dr. LAST NAME.

NEVER refer to an Episcopal priest as “Reverend” – reverend is an adjective and always requires “The” before it and the FIRST LAST NAME or just The Reverend Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms./Dr. LAST NAME. For Deans, it is The Very Reverend, for archdeacons The Venerable.

The Reverend John Smith/The Reverend Mr. Smith
The Reverend Dr. John Smith
The Very Reverend John Smith
The Venerable John Smith
The Reverend Canon John Smith

Dear Mr./Fr. Smith:
Dear Dr. Smith:
Dear Dean Smith:
Dear Archdeacon Smith:
Dear Canon Smith:

DEACON: A deacon, like a bishop or priest, is an ordained minister. Deacon comes from the Greek word diakonos (διάκοvος or διάκος), meaning servant. Deacons usually serve in local congregations and have a special ministry to the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the world. In conversation, deacons are addressed as Deacon/Mister/Ms./Miss/Mrs. LAST NAME or Deacon FIRST NAME. In writing, the form is The Reverend Mister/Miss/Ms. FIRST NAME LAST NAME, and the Dear Deacon/Mr./Miss/Ms. LAST NAME or Deacon FIRST NAME, according to preference or local custom.

The Reverend Mr. John Smith

Dear Mr. Smith/ Dear Deacon John/ Dear Deacon Smith:

So… What do you call a Deacon????? When speaking, Mister or Deacon (“What do you think about this, Mister Smith?or “What do you think about this, Deacon?” / “May I introduce you to our deacon, Mr. Smith?” or “May I introduce you to Deacon John (or Deacon Smith)?”

OR… Just ask what the person prefers to be called!

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