What do you call a female priest? No, not the first line of a joke, although maybe it could be.
Father? Mother? Farv? Vicar? Reverend? Padre? Madre? Parson? Rector? Oi, you? Errrr? Claire (if that happens to be your name)?
Oddly, I don’t mind. Apart from Mother, Reverend Mother, Madre. I don’t like the titles that single me out as being female. Why not? Because I spent a career working to prove that it didn’t matter what gender I am (or aspire to) as long as I did a good job. It didn’t matter that I was female – or more to the point, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t male. I cope quite well with being addressed as Father Claire (got plenty of friends who do it, for them it might be a way of helping them cope with the fact I ever got ordained at all), and I’ve been stopped in a shop for an ex-Navy chap to ask me whether I would be offended by ‘Padre’ “because you see, it’s what I’m used to – do you find it offensive?” I don’t, and so that’s what I said. It’s a mode of address that is comfortable for the person doing the addressing.
For me, “Father” is a form of address for priests that I don’t use, and that has far more to do with my relationship with my father than it does with any relationship with any priest of the more Catholic persuasion at all. But equally, it’s a form of address that is very familiar from my particular tradition, and so if people want to apply it to me that’s fine. ‘Father’ is just a particular way of addressing a priest. ‘Mother’ seems to me to be taking the p. – a cover for “I would call you Father but I’ve just noticed you’re a woman”. Get over it. I’m a priest.
But as has just been pointed out, these are mostly very parental titles. They inherently reduce those using the titles to the status of children. They involve loss of identity (am I the only parent who after 5 years knew intimate details of Jack’s Mum’s life, but had no idea of her name?). In a church which encourages relationship with God and with each other, which proclaims (when it suits it) a priesthood of all believers, why set up that Parent-Child relationship? Why not go for something more Adult-Adult?
So what should you call me? Vicar, Rector are both technically incorrect, parental forms of address seem inappropriate. I know, you can call me Claire.
Please, don’t call me “Mother”*
*unless you happen to be my son or my daughter, in which case feel free!
This post is brought to you courtesy of @knittingvicar @Mr_Meze and @ramtopsrac