I admit I have an ambivalent relationship with the use of honorifics. There ... I said it. The first time I was called "ma'am," I was 18 years old and working as a florist. I turned around to see who this girl was talking to ... and I was the only one in the shop. It was weird.
When I got married and first had someone call me "Mrs. Scarborough," I did the same thing. I turned around to see if my mother-in-law had walked into the room behind me. She wasn't there, for the record.Later, when I had children, I became "Mrs. _________'s Mom." First it was "Mrs. Claire's Mom" then it was "Mrs. Erin's Mom." You kind of forfeit any personal identity when it comes to your kids - their peers know them, and you become "Mrs. _________'s Mom."
Then I finally gave into God's call to the priesthood. It took 26 years for me to say "yes." Remember, I'm old enough to have grown up when this was not an option because of my chromosomal configuration. I just thought God was nuts. Apparently, either God is nuts or I'm really supposed to do this. Some are still betting on the former and I get plenty of "feedback" from folks in that camp regularly. Fortunately, the congregation I serve and our denomination is betting on door #2 ... and so far, so good.
People still do not know what to do with women in collars. Not only do they not know what to call us, many doubt we are even really ordained. My colleague Diane, who is an ELCA pastor in Connecticut, was balled out by a woman a few weeks ago when she pulled up to the hospital on her Harley-Davidson and parked in the clergy spot to make a pastoral call. She unzipped her leathers to show her collar. The woman was unimpressed and said anybody could wear a collar. Diane proceeded to show her the Communion kit in her saddlebag - again the woman was nonplussed. Diane then showed her the ELCA roster card in her wallet identifying her as a duly ordained pastor in the ELCA. Finally, the woman relented and apologized. I wonder if my friend would have received this kind of third degree had she been male? While we can't argue the negative, I do believe the accosting party would have likely backed down at the clerical attire had it been on a man riding a Harley.
The doubt of our "legit-ness" extends into what to call me. After 35 years of ordaining women, we still get the, "What do we call you?" question. When I'm feeling particularly snarky, my response is, "Isn't it obvious? 'Your Majesty' will suffice." I even offer to let them kiss one of my rings for good measure ... you know, to get the full effect. I have people call me "Mother Scarborough" or "Pastor Scarborough" and that's fine ... especially when we don't know each other well. Kind of a common courtesy like calling someone "Mr.," "Mrs.," or "Ms." when you don't know them well. If people know me, I'm good with being called by my baptismal name. It's worked well for 49 years, I see no need to give it up now. But some people just don't know what to do with me ... like the bride whose family were members of our congregation a long time ago who wanted to rent the church for her wedding - her Baptist (male, of course) pastor would be officiating. I've only been in the congregation 2 years, so this is new territory for me. In the past week, I've had two occasions to speak to this young woman on the phone ... and yes, she is young enough to be my daughter. She left a voice mail message last week and when I called her back, she said, "Hi Sweetie, how are you?" I was so shocked I wasn't quite sure if I heard her correctly. I responded, "Excuse me?!" She rephrased the question without the "sweetie" reference. I let it slide that time and wrote it off to a slip of the lip.
But ... it happened again this week. I placed a call to her and after identifying myself she responded, "Oh hi! How are you sweetie?" My internal voice wanted to scream, "It's pronounced PAASS - TORE not SWEE-TEE!" but ... I asked her calmly, "Excuse me, but did you just call me 'Sweetie'?" She replied nonchalantly, "Yes." ... Yes ... as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling someone you do not know "sweetie." Really?
I took a deep breath and said, "That is a term of endearment which is only appropriate for my family members to use when addressing me. I expect you to call me 'Pastor Scarborough.' Have I made myself clear?" Apparently, this rattled her cage and she was quite clipped in her response of "Yes, ma'am" and her additional responses to my questions.
About 20 minutes after this conversation, she called me back to apologize and told me she meant no offense. I accepted her apology and let her know that I sensed this was a habit she had but one I strongly suggest she needs to check as calling a person you do not know "sweetie" is disrespectful regardless of whether you meant it disrespectfully or not. I asked her if she addressed her own (male) pastor as "sweetie." She said, "No." I gently told her that if it isn't ok to address a male pastor as "sweetie," it's not ok to say it to a female pastor either.
Chalk it up to a teaching moment ... but knowing this bride is young enough to be my daughter is troubling. It breaks my heart that we are still having to address double-standards about respect for clergy. In both of these cases, the female clergy were confronted by women! It is is a patriarchal hang-over to speak respectfully to male clergy and give them the benefit of the doubt while not extending the same courtesy to women clergy. Admittedly, there are many people who do treat us as respectfully as they do our male counterparts and the numbers are growing. But for the record, regardless of chromosomal configurations, it's pronounced "Pass - tore" ...or "Your Ma-jes-ty." I'll answer to either.