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Call No One Father

The Rev. Mark Stanley

Isn’t it time that we stopped using the title “Father” for priests? Even though Jesus said, “Call no one Father” (Matthew 23:9), I don’t think we need to use the literal sense of that text as the foundation for this change.

I would start with the baptismal theology of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer. One of the great thrusts of our current Prayer Book is honoring the ministry of the laity. What is most important is that we are all baptized. As baptized members of Christ’s body, we have ministries either as lay or ordained people. So why should priests get a special (and seemingly superior) title? What is meant as a sign of respect towards the clergy seems to reinforce an outmoded hierarchy.

I know a priest who likes to be called Father because “I have worked so hard for this role and I want the respect this vocation deserves.” This is certainly a valid concern in a societal context where all authority figures are getting less respect. My response is that authentic respect flows from who we are and not what we are called. Our pastoral leadership and spiritual presence, and not any special title, will be the real source of a congregation giving us authority.

In addition, with the ordination of women in 1976 we have changed who can be in the priesthood. Is there an equivalent title to “Father” for women? Some women clergy like being called “Mother.” Others can’t stand it. It doesn’t help that “Mother” is also a title used by Roman Catholic nuns. In the Episcopal Church we have both genders ordained. This decision has consequences. We just can’t have one gender with a standard title that does not work for all. This seems like a simple issue of justice. Are men who like the title “Father” willing to let this title go for the sake of our clergy sisters?

Is “Father” really even the best title to describe what a priest does? I remember being a newly ordained 25 year old priest and having an elderly woman in our parish continually calling me “Father.” Do I really function like a father to her? This puts me in the parent role and her in the child position. It can actually be harming the spiritual development of parishioners to be putting them in this infantilizing position.

Furthermore, using the title Father creates the potential for theological confusion. Imagine a priest about to lead the Lord’s Prayer. It is then announced “Father Smith will now lead us in the ‘Our Father.’” Here is a situation where you are calling God “Father” in close connection with calling the priest “Father.” Is this ordained human being really in the same role as the Divine? Unfortunately some people already fall into that misunderstanding. Having a spiritual leader with the same title as the first person of the Trinity is just not a good set up for anyone.

In general I think people should be able to be called whatever they want. However when a title has the potential of getting in the way of the mission of the church, I would hope that people would be willing to make a change. Even if that change requires the sacrifice of a beloved title.

I don’t have the answer to what priests should be called. I do know that whatever we are called it should be the same title for both men and women. I find that it feels great to be a pastoral leader who is on a mutual first name basis with the people in my parish. They seem to like it too. So I propose we stick with the most meaningful names we have, our baptismal namesthe names with which we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

 

 

Let Us Pray for Baltimore

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us in a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Last night, we gathered at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore to offer our prayers for the healing of Baltimore. Here is a copy of the prayers that we used, which were adapted in part from some prayers in the New Zealand Prayer Book for the Anglican Church. Friends from all around the country joined us in prayer last night, and you are invited to pray with us too.

Prayers for Baltimore        

Leader: Let us pray:

-O God of many names, lover of all peoples; we pray for justice and peace in our hearts and homes, in our city and our world. Amen

-We pray for Freddie Gray and for all who mourn his death. Amen

-for those who are angry about the ongoing problems of racism, income inequality, education disparity and police brutality. Amen

-for all who are hoping for accountability and systemic change. Amen

-for the young adults in our city who have lost hope and turned to violence. Amen

-for parents who worry about their children getting into trouble     Amen

-for the protesters and police, for the National Guard and the Fire Department. Amen

-for Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and all who direct law enforcement. Amen

-for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Governor Larry Hogan, and all in authority. Amen

-for religious leaders working with our citizens, and for community organizers who are bringing people together. Amen

-for the small businesses that have suffered due to vandalism and looting. Amen

-for reporters and those in the media who are telling our story to the world. Amen

-for teachers and educators who are making a difference in the lives of children. Amen

-for all citizens who live with fear and a sense of helplessness. Amen

-for those who yearn for equality and a kinder world. Amen

People: Be our companion and guide, O God, so that we may seek to do your will.

Leader: For the broken and the whole

People: May we build each other up

Leader: For the victims and the oppressors

People: May we share power wisely

Leader For the mourners and the mockers

People: May we have empathy and compassion

Leader: For the silent and the propagandists

People: May we speak our own words in truth

Leader: For the peacemakers and the agitators

People: May clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony

Leader: For the unemployed and the overworked

People: May our impact on others be kindly and creative

Leader: For the hungry and the overfed

People: May we share so that we will all have enough

Leader: For the troubled and the thriving

People: May we live together as wounded healers

Leader: For the vibrant and the dying

People: May we all die to live

Leader: Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be a cause of suffering to one another

People: May we ease the pain of others

Leader: Knit us together in mind and flesh, in feeling and in spirit

People: And make us one, united in friendship

Leader: Let us accept that we are profoundly loved by God

People: And need never be afraid

Leader: May God kindle in us the fire of love

People: To bring us alive and give warmth to the world.

Leader: Let us now name before God, either silently or aloud, those persons and problems that are on our hearts this day.

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All of us out together to sing over our street and neighbors

All Say Together:    The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach

Praying for Baltimore, Singing, and Walking the Block

Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.

At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us out on a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.

As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:

Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!

Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!

For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.

By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.

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Jessica Sexton, our Youth Minister, helps lead the singing march as our crucifer

It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.

It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach