Clergy honorifics (not titles)

Priest
Photo by tome213 at stock.xchng.

Do you know what makes pedantic priests like me happy? Yeah, apart from people loving the Lord Jesus with all their hearts. I’ll tell you: it’s people who get clergy titles right and include the preceding definite article. That’s a ‘the’ to you and me.

What do you mean you didn’t know there was a ‘the’ before Reverend?! Here’s how I understand it (with a little help from Mr Debrett).

Honorific

You see, “The Reverend” isn’t actually a clergyman, or clergywoman’s title: it’s a courtesy title, an ‘honorific’. An honorific may only qualify a full name, that is it cannot be part of a name.

So, for example I may be properly addressed as:

  • Mr Saunders
  • Mr G Saunders
  • Mr Gareth Saunders
  • The Reverend Mr Saunders
  • The Reverend G Saunders
  • The Reverend Gareth Saunders

BUT NOT, under any circumstances:

  • The Reverend Saunders
  • Reverend Saunders
  • Reverend Mr Saunders
  • Reverend G Saunders
  • Reverend Gareth Saunders

In other words, my proper title is ‘Mr’ not ‘The Reverend’.

The rules

  1. The word “Reverend” must be preceded by a definite article (‘the’): The Reverend
  2. “The Reverend” may be abbreviated to “The Revd” or “The Rev.” (The full-stop after ‘Rev’ is optional, but should never appear after “The Revd”.)
  3. “The Reverend” (or suitable abbreviation) must be written before either
    1. Any temporal titles (e.g. the Hon, the Earl of Somewhere, etc.), then
    2. An ordinary title (e.g. Mr, Mrs, Miss, Professor, Dr, etc.), or
    3. The first name (e.g. Gareth), or
    4. The first initial (e.g. G)

And that’s it. Simple, huh!

That said, I prefer to be known simply as “Gareth” — that’s my proper Christian name.

Postscript

For more information on the wonderful world of pedantry with regards the standard styles of address, I thoroughly recommend Debrett’s Correct Form (Debrett’s Ltd; New Ed edition, 30 Oct 2006)

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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