"What am I supposed to call you?"
Ever since I "mastered the divine," or so the diploma on my wall says, I've had to answer some version of this question.
I love the question. There is respect in the request to address someone properly. There is a desire to avoid awkwardness. I wish more people asked—because my answer has evolved with experience.
When I became a pastor, I struggled with being “set apart” in the clergy role. Approachability mattered to me. Identifying with people’s needs was forefront. Truth be told, what people thought also mattered to me. I should have looked within and asked, “Who am I?” Instead, I asked, “Who do others want me to be?”
I set aside the titles of Reverend, Pastor, and the occasional Sister, and said, “Call me Darian.” Sometimes I was even more vague and flippantly said, “I respond to whatever.”
Nine years, and a lot of “whatever” later, I have seen that what we call each other matters. While I want to be real, I know that the call to ordained ministry carries a sense of separateness, too. As I’ve learned to show greater respect to myself, I’ve realized that we owe proper addresses to one another, regardless of profession.
This clergywoman has learned, mostly through humor, that some titles are best left unspoken. Here are the top three and suggested alternatives for each.
At a recent funeral, a man approached me. He tapped me lightly on the face with a piece of paper, looked me in the eye and said, "HEY, GIRL!" I had no idea who he was then, and I have no idea who he is now.
If I had to guess, Not-Terribly-Sad Mourner thought that he was playful and funny. He thought we knew each other well enough to joke around. While I want to give Mourner the benefit of the doubt, he didn’t know me well enough to call me what my friends from college call me when we talk on the phone. There was a misplaced casualness in the address.
Instead of “girl,” why not an old-fashioned “ma’am?” And if you know the person’s profession, use the appropriate title of Doctor, Reverend, Mister, Miss, Your Honor, etc. Then, if the person gives you permission to say ‘girl,” or “dude,” or any other diminutive title, then go right ahead!
2. "Man of God"
Years ago, I was the preacher at a community worship service. It was one of those events where 10 pastors participated in a service that only had five "parts." As a result, we had to create lots of prayers so that everyone had something to do in the service. One pastor had the assignment of "Prayer Before the Sermon." Somewhere close to the "amen," he said, "Lord, we thank you for the man of God who is about to preach your Word."
Like a good preacher, my eyes were closed. My head was bowed. As I slowly raised my head, the pastor next to me did the same. When I caught his eye, our faces reddened, stifling laughter.
We live in an age where men are named Ashley and women are named Parker. We see a name on a sheet of paper that could easily be male or female, and so often we take a guess. As someone who gets a lot of mail address to “Mr. Duckworth,” including an invitation to join the all-male ministry, Promise Keepers, I understand the confusion of companies that use mass mailings.
In the kingdom of God, though, we are more than words on an envelope, gathered from a spreadsheet.
When possible, find out ahead of time about the people with whom you’ll interact at an event. Find out if the other participants are men of God or women of God. Finding out the basic facts about each other can make big differences—simply by showing courtesy and making an effort.
3. "Honey / Sweetie / Darlin' / Baby / Pineapple / Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch...."
There are exceptions to this suggestion. I have some parishioners who call my “Honey” most Sundays, and they are the age my grandmothers would be. I know them well; they know me well. I respond to any sugary title they give me. In the company of family and close friends, and on Karaoke Night when "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" is a song option, there are pet names like these. Beyond the privacy of our homes, I hope that we will think twice before using such endearments.
There is no particular story that stands out to me about pet names because there are multiple stories. In passing, I’ve been addressed by all the above. Yes, someone called me, “pineapple.” I don’t remember why. Maybe it was a party with a Hawaiian theme? All I remember was how these “titles” made me feel.
The closer I’ve paid attention to what people call me, the more attention I give to what I call others. So often, we don’t intend to belittle or disrespect each other. We simply become careless. We make assumptions about how well we know each other.
In the gospels, people address Jesus in a variety of ways: Son of David, Rabbi, Messiah, Lord … When we study those verses closely, we see that each title matters. They reveal relationships. They reveal God’s presence in our lives. They reveal that we are ever getting to know God better, and we are ever getting to know one another better.
What do you “call” yourself?
What do you desire others to call you?
Do you love yourself in the way that Christ loves you?
Do you love one another as He has loved us?
all good things to each of you,