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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

22 October 2006

Addressing the Clergy

Q: Is it correct to use “Pastor, Reverend John C. Doe” together?

Pastor SnyderA: While there are variations in style, some general rules apply. These are based more on English grammar than on theology. “Pastor” normally serves as a title or form of direct address. Therefore, instead of calling me “Mr. Walter Snyder,” the normal address would be “Pastor Walter Snyder.” In some churches, “Father” is used as the normal title for a parish clergyman. Additional ecclesiastical titles include “Bishop,” “Archbishop,” and the like.

“Reverend” is considered a “style.” It’s an adjective, used to describe the person in question. If you wish to follow strict English usage, you would speak of me as “The Reverend Walter Snyder.” The rules of grammar (although often broken) would frown upon calling me “Reverend Snyder.” You discover a parallel when referring to many public figures. For example, if a “Mrs. Mary Smith” happens to be your senator, you might speak about her as “The Honorable Mary Smith” or “The Honorable Mrs. Mary Smith.”

My AddressIf you’re addressing a letter, you may send it to “The Reverend Walter Snyder” or even “The Reverend Pastor Walter Snyder.” Then, in the salutation and elsewhere you speak to me rather than about me, you would normally say, “Pastor Snyder.” If you were writing to a Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican priest instead of to me, the rules of grammar would have you use “Father” in place of “Pastor.” The political parallel would be that you would call your senator either “Senator Smith” or “Mrs. Smith” in direct address.

Therefore, according to good grammar, speaking directly to me and calling me “Reverend Snyder” would be the same as calling our fictitious senator “Honorable Smith.” Now as I said, the rules are often broken. However, if you wish to make a good first impression, it doesn’t hurt to do as you have done: Find out the best way of addressing someone and determine in advance which titles to use in what manner.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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