What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.
If I were a minister (which I won’t be); I wouldn’t use the honorific ‘Rev.’ as my title. For thesame reason that if I were married (which is not completely impossible); I wouldn’t use ‘Mrs’. Or if I had a degree (which I actually do); I wouldn’t put letters after my name.
I live in a pretty informal world. I don’t use titles at all in my normal life, and it seems slightly odd or old-fashioned to do so. It would be even more bizarre to change a title when I don’t use titles anyway.
I get that ministers have trained in theology. And that they worked hard to do so. And that ministers’ training is a bit more than just getting a degree in theology. And that convention and tradition allows them to thus describe themselves as Rev. Joe Bloggs. But, I think it’sinteresting that almost nobody chooses not to do so.
Is it about the status?
Partly, I think this title changing thing is status-seeking. I’m off the market (and possibly better than you) because I’m married. I’m clever because I have a degree. I’m more committed to religion(?), my ideas about theology are moreimportant than yours, because I am a minister.
It’s marking a difference between ministers and ‘other people’. One that I don’t really think is all that valid. And the difference it’s trying to mark is that ministers are superior, or moreimportant, or more special than ‘other people’. As a general rule, I’m not a fan of this. Don’t tell me that you deserve respect, show me.
I can see that there are times when additional status is useful – when it helps to get the job of being a minister done. But most ministers don’t use it only when it’s helpful, they use it all the time.
Or is it more about the theology?
Whilst I’m sure that there’s a bit of a status thing going on (I worked hard to train for ministry, I deserve this title!) I guess though, that ministers use ‘Rev’ as much because of their theology of ministry.
I’d describe this theology as ‘minister as person’. It’s the idea that people are called to become ministers, and that this marks an almost irrevocable change in their identities – like becoming a parent.
Identifying with your job (whether it’s as a minister or not) in this way has its upsides. It gives you a sense of security and it means that you’re never really off duty which is sometimes helpful for the rest of us.
On the other hand, identifying with your job is not normally seen as a good thing. It can cause you to become too attached and not see when it’s time to move on. It can stop you developing as a whole person, but instead becoming too one-dimensional. Being ‘on duty’ all the time leads to burnout.
In the case of ministers, I think it leads to ‘GA retired minister syndrome’ at the annual meetings, where retired ministers can often dominate the
discussions – possibly because they have few other outlets to express their ministry – which then accidentally disenfranchises those of us with less time on our hands.
Joseph Priestley, famous for having discovered oxygen (also a Unitarian minister)
I’m more in favour of the theology of ‘minister as role’. That being a minister is just one of many roles that people undertake, and that even if it is a role that you hold for the rest of your life (and not everyone does), its importance can shift.
It’s probably better for your mental health to see yourself as more than just a minister. And it will probably make you happier if you are more rounded.
Thinking of ‘minister as role’, also validates the idea that there are many different ways to minister as a Unitarian, and that none of those ways are restricted to professional Unitarians. And the idea that it’s the
congregation or organisation that calls a minister to serve them – and that they can call whoever they like, trained or not.
And the idea that it’s about doing ministry, not being allowed to use a special title.