Commentators have noticed a vector toward informality in American culture. Clothing is one bit that comes to mind. I wore a dress shirt and tie to Mass in my early Catholic days (1970 to 72-ish). I wasn’t alone, but I was in the minority among my peers. My mother insisted and I didn’t fight it, since I like dressing up in good clothes–as long as they aren’t wool or polyester.
When I began full-time church ministry nearly thirty years ago, dressing up was more often a habit when I was on “active” duty as a music director or liturgical emcee. I wasn’t displeased to find the music ministry in my new parish adhere fairly closely to Sunday dress.
Names are another thing. And they have age-appropriate structures … still. Generally, with teens however they address the youth minister–which is usually first-name–is fine with me. In my first parish, one of my guitarists was a Louisiana import. Her young children were told to address me as Mr Todd. That sounded a bit strange to my ears. But I occasionally run into the address, and it seems downright respectful and fitting. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older.
Much of the time, young people just avoid calling me by any name. I suppose its understandable.
For priests, the usual practice has been Father first-name or just first-name in private or in staff meetings. I always address a priest as Father in public. One priest I worked with added he preferred a third person reference as Father last-name. It’s only polite to go with what the person wants.
One priest I worked with preferred Father last-name in all addresses, private, professional, and public. It was a bit jarring to hear the ordained associate refer to him by first name only. And a new staff member who worked with him in another parish called him Father last-initial. And that was a bit strange, too, as his last name has only seven letters and entirely pronounceable.
I noticed the whisper about a new western bishop and his first blog entry telling his Wyoming flock how he would prefer to be addressed:
Why “Bishop Steven”? Steven is my baptismal name, and the name that I was called by my family. As a priest, I used Fr. Steve, so Bishop Steven is similar. While I understand that using a Bishop’s last name for address is a form of respect, it might also create distance in a relationship which is meant to be fatherly and familial.