In my line of work, my female colleagues are widely divided on what we should be called. You see, for years in the Episcopal Church, the male priests were “Father so-and-so.” In formal writing, it was “the Rev. so-and-so.” But in the Episcopal Church, priests are not called “Rev. so-and-so” because the word reverend is an adjective, not a noun, and most Episcopalians cannot stand by grammatical errors. Episcopalians also do not often use “Pastor so-and-so,” as it is considered too protestant. So, that leaves Episcopalians in a bit of mess with titles for female priests. Many have taken to calling women “Mother so-and-so,” to create a sense of parity between male and female priests. But some women despise that address. And so, female priests tend to be all over the map about what they prefer – from no title at all (simply using their name given at baptism) to Mother, to Reverend (conceding to the grammatical error for the sake of convenience), to Pastor.
So, when I was asked at my local yoga studio what I was called professionally, I had to chuckle. I told them when I use a title, I prefer Mother Jennifer. But that I answer to almost anything – Mother Jennifer, Rev. Jen, Pastor Jennifer, or just Jennifer. But this past week, I added some new favorites. A toddler in our parish was watching on online broadcast from church. When her dad asked, “Do you know who that is?” she replied, “That’s Mama Church.” Just last week, as our ecumenical brothers and sisters helped us host a winter shelter for the homeless in our community, a Roman Catholic volunteer was talking to my husband. When she realized who he was she said, “Oh, your wife is that little spitfire thing!”
The funny thing is that despite our baptized names, I think we are all living into identities throughout life. Sometimes we will only be known as our child’s parent – “Simone’s Mom.” Sometimes we are known by our profession title – Doctor Smith, Nurse Johnson, Professor Green, Colonel Davis. Sometimes we take on a funny nickname from a particular stage of life – I’ll let your memories recall a few of your own. What we are called creates meaning, purpose, and identity throughout life. And sometimes we have nicknames that we do not even know about – whether it’s “spitfire” or something else.
One of the things I love about church is that we work hard to know each other’s names: sometimes the ones we are baptized with, but sometimes the funny, the serious, and the beloved names. Those names can make us feel known, loved, and affirmed. But mostly those names in church remind us that we are known by name by someone else: our God. I like to think God is able to hold all our names in tension: the funny, yet embarrassing ones; the honorific ones; the ones that remind us of our call; the ones that reveal our relatedness. God knows us better than any one name can contain, and yet I imagine loves every little nuance of our names. I wonder what names in your life could stand to be let go, and which names invite you to be someone powerful and life-changing.