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I am the very model of a modern Vicar General

Not so long ago a parishioner asked me: “What exactly do you do as Vicar General of the diocese?” The answer: Officially, I administer the diocese’s affairs in the absence of the bishop.

And, indeed I had the opportunity to flex my quasi-episcopal muscle quite recently when Bishop Vaughan was on vacation in Ireland. However, the moment of glory passed me by without the slightest need to exercise my mighty powers.

As to the perks that go with the job, there really aren’t any, other than the right to wear a dashing red sash and red piping on your cassock—which might well be described as the ecclesiastical equivalent of sergeant’s stripes. But Archdeacon Kerouac has the right to wear exactly the same duds.

There are some, I suppose, who would regard being called “ Very Reverend” as a perk. On the other hand there’s probably a bunch of people who probably think it rather odd. Does it mean I am very much more reverend than the average parson?

I very much doubt it. So I don’t actually use it.

Actually, I’ve never been overly bothered with titles. In New York, I was frequently addressed as “Yo” as in “Yo Guy.” Originally I assumed the person addressing me thus was prophetically aware of my Christian name and that the that “Yo” was some sort of foreign honorific.

But then one day somebody addressed me as “Yo Father.” I then realized that “yo” was simply a means of attracting my attention, and the utilization of the word “guy” didn’t mean we were acquainted but that the “guy” was, rather, the New Yorkers’ equivalent of “old chap” or “old bean.”

Here in Baltimore one’s much more likely to be addressed as “Yo, rev.” than “Yo, father” However I must say I really don’t like the idea of being hailed with “Yo, ven.” It really doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi, does it? However, I don’t suppose this would deter the folks inclined to use it.

My old friend, The Rev’d Sam Logan hated with a passion being addressed as “rev” or “reverend.” In fact, one day he posted a notice on the wall of his office at the Union Memorial Hospital where he was chaplain which read:

“The word ‘Reverend’ is an adjective. You may refer to ‘The Reverend Mr. Smith’ or you may address a letter to ‘The Reverend John Smith’ or you may address a letter to the ‘The Rev’d John Smith.’ In direct address these gentlemen are, depending on the custom of the Church and the clergyman’s preference, ‘Father,’ ‘Pastor,’ ‘Mr. Smith,’ or if he’s a D.D., ‘Dr. Smith.’ Here is a little verse which has circulated for years in Episcopal seminaries. No one seems to know who wrote it. Perhaps it will get the lesson across.”

Hi, Reverend!

Breathes there a Priest with soul so dead,
Who never to his Lord hath said:
On bony knees I humbly bend,
Lord, stop men calling me Reverend!
And to his flock on Sunday morn,
Did all the faithful sternly warn:
O, call me Parson, Call me Mike.
Call me Father if you like.
Call me Mister, call me friend,
A Loving ear to all I lend,
But, O, my heart with woe you rend,
When’er you call me Reverend.

A week or so later, a note appeared on the back of the poem. It was from The Rev. Harry E. Shelley, who pioneered the UMH Chaplaincy. It read: “Sam, your poem about ‘Reverend’ comes from the book ‘The Chain’ which I read many years ago. I believe Paul Weilman was the author. The original version goes like this:

Call me ‘Mister,’ if you will,
Call me ‘Rector,’ better still,
Even ‘Father,’ the High Church frill,
Brings to my heart no chill.
But, O, how my heart doth rend,
The man who calls me ‘Reverend.’

Sad to relate, neither version of the poem deterred the homeless folks who regularly visited Father Sam for handouts, prayer, and counsel from calling him “Yo, rev.” And, in all fairness, one has to say he bore it with grace and good humor. So, hey! Rector, mister, father, archdeacon, arch demon, or simply “Yo Guy”—what’s in a name? GPH✠

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