People have a lot of titles at their disposal when they are addressing a letter to a member of the clergy, or when they are trying get their minister’s attention on a crowded New York street!
The two most frequent designations people use around me are “Reverend” and “Pastor.” In hospitals, I am sometimes called “Father” by doctors and nurses. I have a colleague in the cloth who loves to shout, “Brother Scott!” when he sees me at the Union Square Farmer’s Market.
Some parishioners favor a more formal and academic title, and will present me as “Dr. Black Johnston.” Once — about 15 years ago — I was introduced to the congregation of an African-American Baptist Church as “Bishop.” It went straight to my head.
I have always been fascinated by Episcopalian titles. Anglicans have developed the most sumptuous labels: Vicar, Rector, Canon. They also have escalating add-ons. For example, the dean of a cathedral is “The Very Reverend Smith.” If, however, Smith were to become a real bishop — not a fraudulent one like me — his title would become “The Right Reverend Smith.” Nice, eh? If Smith ascends even farther up the ladder to be named archbishop, then his official moniker would be “The Most Reverend Smith.”
A friend of mine once confessed a desire to style himself as “The Very Most Right Reverend.” Now that’s a title!
In Atlanta, my friend Mary Kelly always called me “Preacher.” The first time it happened it took me by surprise. I was in the supermarket, pushing a shopping cart topped with a package of diapers and a couple of bottles of red wine. Mary Kelly spied me, and with her beautiful Kentucky accent exclaimed, “Hey, Preacher!”
Maybe it was the sheer friendliness and grace of that first greeting, but I have come to favor “Preacher.” If someone is going to call me something other than Scott — my “Christian name” — I figure they could do a lot worse than that.
This Sunday, Barbara Brown Taylor is going to be with us at both worship services. She will be our preacher. Honestly, Barbara’s been “Preacher” to me for a long time. I trust her voice and her perspective. I find solace and challenge in her sermons.
I first met Barbara at an Academy of Homiletics meeting 22 years ago. My mentor,Tom Long, introduced us. He said, “Scott, I want you to meet someone with a heart for proclamation and an incredible gift with words.”
Two years later Barbara published a book about the minister’s craft entitled “The Preaching Life.” In this lovely volume, she talks about what it means to be “a detective of divinity” — to always and ever expect God to show up in this world, and to have the crazy courage to stand in a pulpit and point out these holy moments. As a professor, I required that every fledgling seminary student read it.
We are honored to have this celebrated writer, this accomplished speaker, this “Preacher” with us at FAPC this Sunday.
See you in worship,