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Diocese of Connecticut gives congregations one year to promote Gender-Neutral Titles for Priests

Diocese of Connecticut gives congregations one year to promote Gender-Neutral Titles for Priests
Father & Mother ... Mr. & Mrs.& Miss are out. Pastor, Elder and Mx might be in

By Mary Ann Mueller with David W. Virtue DD
September 27, 2014

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut is asking congregations to promote gender-neutral titles for priests in its Diocese. Resolution 12 is headed for the Diocese's 230th Annual Convention to be held Oct. 24-25 in Waterbury, Ct. It proposes: "To Promote the Use of Gender-Neutral Titles for Priests." Therefore calling a male priest "Father" or a woman priest "Mother" may become verboten.

The 19 diocesan priests -- with a top heavy female to male ratio -- who are proposing the Resolution want the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut to affirm that "including both genders in the priestly order has been a transformational example of advancing God's mission in this place..." and that they "applaud the work of the various General Conventions in committing us to challenge the sin of sexism by striving to eliminate the use of gendered language in worship and in church life ..."

The proposers feel that: "in contrast to the orders of Bishop, Deacon, and Laity, we find that the continued practice of using gendered titles to refer to male and female priests effectively creates a different and unequal status for female priests..." it behooves them to first "... eliminate any gendered titles for priests still in use in parishes, such as 'Father' and 'Mother,' while encouraging congregational conversations about the preferred use of gender-neutral titles..."

The proposers want to give the people and clergy of the Diocese one year to figure out how to violate classic etiquette and reasonable sensibilities. They are a motley group. There are 13 women and six men.

The 19 clergy persons are: Dr. Paul Carling, associate rector, and Stephanie Johnson, assistant priest for Children and Youth Formation, St. Paul's Fairfield; Julie Kelsey, associate dean, and Dr. Carolyn Sharp, associate professor, Yale Divinity School; Kate Heichler, pastor, Church of Christ the Healer, Stamford; Mother Tracy Russell, chaplain, St. Thomas Day School, New Haven; Valerie Dixon, priest associate, St. John's Niantic; Don Hamer, rector, Trinity, Hartford; Ellen Tillotson, priest associate, Trinity, New Haven; Alice Mindrum, director Anam Cara Canter for Spiritual Life, Fairfield; Donna Downs, rector, All Saints, Oakville; Mark Lingle, Lutheran pastor, St. Francis Episcopal, Stamford; Lee Ann Tolzmann, rector, St. Paul, Riverside; Barbara Chaney, missional pastor/companion priest, St. James, New Haven; David Anderson, rector, St. Luke, Darien; clergy couple Paul Briggs, rector St. Mary's, Manchester & Barbara Briggs, priest-in-charge, St. Alban, Simsbury; and clergy couple Gregory Welin, priest-in-charge, St. Paul's, Waterbury & Amy Welin, rector, St. John, Waterbury.

"AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in all parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, we commit to ending the use of gendered titles for priests no later than the [2015] 231st Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut." The clergy persons' proposed Resolution also recommends, "... that parishes in which female and male priests serve together shall begin using a specific common gender-neutral title, according to the shared preference of the clergy in that parish" and "that parishes in which title changes are to occur begin, as soon as is practicable, to engage in congregational education and discussion about the reasons for, and the benefits of this change."

The Connecticut clerics want a similar Resolution be drafted for consideration by the 2015 General Convention to be held in Salt Lake City: "AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Convention direct the deputation to the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church to draft a similar resolution for the deliberation of the national church to eliminate gendered language in the titles used to refer to priests ...

"The use of gendered titles for priests, unlike bishops and deacons, has promoted a 'different-but-equal' priesthood that is inherently unequal. Our patriarchal history, and the deference accompanying the term 'Father' in the church and in the larger society, casts male priests as 'real priests' and women priests as 'the other'," the Resolution's explanation fleshes out. "...while context, culture, and class are critically important dimensions of ministry, and that while there is not yet a consensus on the use of a common gender-neutral title for priests, to advance the goal of developing and using such titles ..."

This is ludicrous. There are differences between male and female clergy. It is in their genes, their DNA, their hormones and their plumbing. A male thinks, walks, talks and acts like a man. A female thinks, walks, talks and acts like a woman. They are similar but decidedly different. God made them that way. Men and women are made to complement each other, not compete, or be the same. However, both can hold the same position with each living out their vocation in their own unique way with their own giftedness, talents and abilities that God gave them. In The Episcopal Church, the battle over women's ordination has already been lost or won -- depending on one's viewpoint -- decades ago.

In Anglicanism, including The Episcopal Church, male priests are traditionally called "Father." Since the ordination of women, the term "Mother" has been respectfully used for women priests.

The group argues: It's a natural fit. Why degrade her? Why denude her? Why ignore her God-created gender. She needs to be honored for who she is: a woman. God created her to be female. Therefore, she is who she is by God's design.

The Connecticut Resolution states: "by ending the use of gendered titles, encourages experimenting with various gender-neutral titles in different contexts, and perhaps developing a common title, should Convention ultimately choose. It also sensitizes the whole church to avoiding inappropriate gendered language in other areas of our common life."

The framers of Resolution 12 see it as furthering "God's ministry of restoration and reconciliation with all of creation" through: 1) uniting all orders of the Church, across genders, in challenging institutional sexism throughout the church and society, while advancing the goal of full gender equality, and strengthening the witness of the priesthood as a whole; 2) inviting ordained men to re-examine the nature of male privilege, and to evaluate what they are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of justice on behalf of their sister priests; and 3) respecting the importance of context, class, and culture by not immediately replacing gendered titles with a common gender-neutral title, but instead, encouraging discussion, and experimentation in the various congregations.

The Diocese of Connecticut has yet to determin what an appropriate genderless title would be. Perhaps the Diocese could experiment and try these non-common titles on for size -- pastor? ... presbyter? ... kahuna? ... elder? ... noble? ... evangelist? ... poobah? .... maestro? ... chaplain? ... pundit? ... reverend? ... venerable? ... guru? ... servant? ... shepherd? ...

Or, perhaps the Diocese of Connecticut could take the lead from the United Kingdom which has developed a Statutory Declaration of Title Change which allows any person -- male, female or transgendered -- to legally change their title from Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. to simply "Mx," -- pronounced "mux" -- as a non-descript, gender expressionless, all inclusive designation of personhood.

The Diocese of Connecticut has one year to "conduct a survey of all parishes prior to the convening of the [2015] 231st Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, and report on the progress of advancing gender-neutral titles for priests throughout the Episcopal Church in Connecticut."

The three Connecticut bishops are also encouraged to participate in the discernment process by helping facilitate discussion of this proposed change within parishes. ... Also, they are to issue a pastoral letter on the subject should the Diocesan Convention pass the Resolution in October.

In an e-mail to VOL, Bishop Ian Douglas explained: "As the resolutions are now published and before the delegates and clergy for prayer and discussion in preparation for our upcoming Diocesan Convention, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any resolution before the Convention considers them formally when we meet at the end of October."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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