Is Your Excellency aware of the 2 for 1 special on pineapples today?
June 18, 2008 4:54 AM   Subscribe

What is the proper etiquette for addressing an authority figure in a religion that you don't practice?

The proper salutation for a Roman Catholic Bishop would be "Your Excellency." Let's say you're meeting a bishop and you're not Catholic. When would this form of salutation and address be necessary and when wouldn't it?

I would guess that it's proper etiquette to use the proper salutation if you're ever meeting them in an official capacity, such as on church grounds. What happens if you meet them in line at the supermarket? Would it still be "Your Excellency"?
posted by C^3 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Setting aside the fact that some of these higher-ups don't do their own grocery shopping...

If it's obvious that the person in question is "on duty", then use the proper form of address (This is easy with priests, just check for the collar. If they're off duty, they don't wear it). If they're in civilian clothing, or look like they want to go incognito, then don't use the formal address.

A lot of these people, being in a leadership position, have a great many demands placed on their time. They can't go anywhere in the region of their church/temple/synagogue, etc. without someone nabbing them and asking for advice, or what have you. So going incognito, especially on vacation, is a way of giving themselves a break and being just another regular joe. If they're doing it right, you'd bump into them somewhere and never know what they do for a living.

So says my uncle the priest.
posted by LN at 5:20 AM on June 18, 2008


I'm not Catholic but my wife and her family are. I've gotten into the habit of calling all members of the clergy I'm introduced to 'Father'. I'm happy that it's seems nicely informal and my wife never corrects me (and she would).
posted by handybitesize at 5:20 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sir or Ma'am. Until someone in the religion tells me otherwise or the correct way to do it.
posted by ruwan at 5:21 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let's say you're meeting a bishop and you're not Catholic. When would this form of salutation and address be necessary and when wouldn't it?

If you're talking about etiquette, then its necessary when its expected and unnecessary when its not. In an official capacity then you say "Your Excellency" since etiquette dictates that you not cause offence.

Religion is a touchy subject so lets use another example: How do you address a foreign head of state? The same rules apply. Even though you are not a citizen of his country and subject to his rule doesn't excuse you from addressing the person in a manner that they expect to be addressed. That is, if we're talking about etiquette.
posted by vacapinta at 5:25 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


The archbishop of our diocese came to my high school one time, and I remember my principal (a priest) telling us, "fellas, if you can't remember what his title is, just call him 'Father.' He's still a priest."

I took that advice through to when I met another archbishop after college, and when we were introduced, I called him "Father." He didn't seem to have a problem.

But both those archbishops seemed pretty cool. It might depend on how "old school" the person you're addressing is.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 5:35 AM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just an FYI - I was raised by an Episcopal priest (my dad) who did a lot of work internationally and ecommunically. I grew up around Bishops, Achbishops, Primates, Imams, Cardinals, Monsegniors, Deans, Lamas, High Priestesses, Shaman, Ayatollahs, Rectors, Vicars, Pastors, Reverends, Right Reverends, Very Reverends, Reverend Doctors, Very Right Reverend Doctors MD PhD DDS, etc. Never in my life have I ever heard anyone actually referred to as "Your Excellency." Most of the time the bishops and achbishops I've been around in formal and informal settings, Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox have been referred to as "Bishop."
posted by Pollomacho at 5:48 AM on June 18, 2008


"Sir" and "Ma'am" are appropriate for any stranger. If you are writing a formal letter, then there are books in the library and websites with the proper salutations. If you really were planning on memorizing titles from all the religions just in case, you could use those books.
posted by QIbHom at 5:57 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Yo, beardy!"

Seriously though, I think most bishops (well, the two I've met) are fine with dispensing with etiquette in most situations, especially when they're talking to a non-clergical person.
posted by Drexen at 6:05 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vacapinta used my example, so I'll just second it here. If you know the correct term, you use it whether you're a member of the religion or not.

He's still President Hornblower, even if he's not your President.
posted by rokusan at 6:05 AM on June 18, 2008


Barring a situation in which the term of address specifically mentions your obedience/faith, you should generally address foreign/other religion dignitaries in the same manner someone in their faith/country might. It's a basic etiquette rule that you address someone as they wish to be addressed, whether it's a preference for Ms. over Miss, or a preference for 'Your Excellency' over 'Hey, Joe'.

The specifics of when to use formal forms like 'Your Excellency' vs. informal forms like 'Bishop Strachan', and what the forms of address are for various more or less obscure religions, militaries, and governments is much more detailed -- there are hundreds of pages long books on protocol that detail these things precisely.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2008


Interestingly in the Church of England, bishops are technically addressed as My Lord. Your excellency, would more usually be the form of address for an ambassador...

As others have said, I think it depends on the occassion. If its very formal, then use the correct formal form of address out of politeness...
posted by prentiz at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2008


Echoing other comments, if you know that they are religious figures, they are not incognito. If you have no idea what their title is, just that they are some kind of big shot in their organization, Sir or Ma'am is fine.

"Your Excellency" seems a bit much unless it's the pope. In all but the most formal settings, yes, "Father" is perfectly acceptable. At least in the Catholic Church where humbleness is a theme, any greeting of respect is fine.

There is also the public versus private etiquette: "Hello Your Excellency, won't you step into my office?" In the office, you'd be able to use less grand titles. He might say, "Oh, please, my father was Bishop Johnson, call me Ralph."
posted by gjc at 6:40 AM on June 18, 2008


Interestingly in the Church of England, bishops are technically addressed as My Lord.

Not for Americans. Only The Lord is "My Lord" for an American. We shot a lot of Brits over that one a few years back and I'll be damned if they try and sneak it back in on us!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:48 AM on June 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


Also note: titles that indicate relationships can stand alone, e.g. Father, Monsignor ("my lord"), or Rabbi ("my master," I think), but it would sound odd to say, "Excuse me, Bishop, I have a question."

Other people's religions are in a way like foreign languages in that you're generally not expected to know all the formalities in most conversational situations.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:58 AM on June 18, 2008


He might say, "Oh, please, my father was Bishop Johnson, call me Ralph."

Well that would raise several other questions, now wouldn't it...
posted by KirTakat at 7:31 AM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interestingly in the Church of England, bishops are technically addressed as My Lord.

Not for Americans.

I didn't think the U.S. (I assume that's your meaning) Anglican community used the term "Church of England" to refer to itself, what with the Declaration of Independence and what have you, but that is the title in England (not the U.K.) itself. In that case, it is a good example of the OP's point, that to be polite you might still wish to refer to the bishop that way, knowing the bishop's affiliation.
posted by galaksit at 8:09 AM on June 18, 2008


Rabbi ("my master," I think)

You could translate it that way, but these days it tends to just be treated as "teacher." And certainly addressing a rabbi as "My master" would be... odd. (And also bring up amusing Star Wars parallels.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:16 AM on June 18, 2008


"Your Excellency" seems a bit much unless it's the pope.
The correct form of address for the Pope is "Your Holiness," not "Your Excellency."

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:39 AM on June 18, 2008


Interestingly in the Church of England, bishops are technically addressed as My Lord.

Not for Americans.

I didn't think the U.S. (I assume that's your meaning) Anglican community used the term "Church of England" to refer to itself, what with the Declaration of Independence and what have you, but that is the title in England (not the U.K.) itself. In that case, it is a good example of the OP's point, that to be polite you might still wish to refer to the bishop that way, knowing the bishop's affiliation.


Through my father, as stated above, I've met Anglican bishops from all over the world, including England, right on up to the Archbishop of Canterbury (met Runcie at least back in the day, and he was an old school Tory who you'd expect to be a real bisho-prick if you know what I mean), even he was not called "my lord" by the people in attendance, save his fellow Brits, I wouldn't believe he would have expected an American to call him such.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:31 AM on June 18, 2008


A very respectful way for Catholics or anyone else to address a bishop (or an archbishop) these days is "Bishop" (seriously). "Your Excellency" is old-fashioned or very formal, or perhaps appropriate in a church service setting.

So you would say, "Hello Bishop Jones." If you didn't know his name, but still wanted to address him, you would say just "Hello, Bishop."

Neither of these would be considered disrespectful, even in a formal setting.

Of course, if he asks you to address him by his first name . . . .
posted by feelinggood at 9:56 AM on June 18, 2008


Ah, so you're presumably talking about an occasion where C of E bishops were on U.S. turf or at least in U.S. company. Your "not for Americans" led me to assume you were talking about bishops in the U.S. Anglican congregation. Sorry, I didn't connect that with your earlier comment.

Though again I don't see why in a formal context it would be inappropriate to use the correct formal title, regardless of what the clergy may tolerate or even hope for in times of almost mandatory informality. I suppose I take vacapinta's view.

Taking Father Ted as a model, every Bishop is called Bishop and that's that. But I don't know if you should kick them up the arse.
posted by galaksit at 10:02 AM on June 18, 2008


To address the original example, it would not be necessary to refer to a Roman Catholic bishop as "Your Excellency" in anything other than the most formal of circumstances. "Bishop So-and-So" would be perfectly suitable in most circumstances.

To address your question in a more general way, there are three modes of address that can come into play when writing or speaking to most religious figures.

First, there is the way that you would address them in writing, e.g. a formal letter. This tends to be the longest of the honorifics. In the case of a Roman Catholic bishop, you would address the letter to "The Most Reverend So-and-So."

Second, there is the way that you would address them verbally in formal circumstances. In the case of a Roman Catholic bishop, you would address them as "Your Excellency," and also genuflect on your left knee (why the left? because the right knee is the one with which you genuflect to the altar, of course!) and kiss their ring. There is no need to do this in the grocery store.

Third, there is the way that you would address them verbally in informal circumstances. In the case of a Roman Catholic bishop, you would address them as "Bishop So-and-So." This would be the pertinent honorific in your grocery store example.

A possible fourth consideration would be the way in which you would use their title in literary attributions or in journalism, but from the tone of your question I take it you are more interested in personal interaction.

Although I'm most familiar with the various Roman Catholic modes of address, in general the same goes all religious titles. Figure out the appropriate title for the appropriate circumstance, and apply.
posted by Wavelet at 10:04 AM on June 18, 2008


I think the Bishop from Caddy Shack has it right. (.wav file)
posted by any major dude at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2008


I would ask: "Excuse me, I'm not sure how to address you--what do you prefer?"

This is always polite.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:26 PM on June 18, 2008


If you're the president of the United States, you say "your holiness" to the Pope, and follow it up with "awesome speech."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:55 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


The discussion for this somewhat-related AskMeFi question talks about these issues, too.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:43 AM on June 19, 2008


From my perspectives as a confirmed atheist, all of these titles are just made up names by a social club. I wouldn't call the Leopard Lodge leader, Grand High Poo-bah Jones. So why would I call someone Bishop Smith. If some cult leader has titled himself as "Lord high ruler of the 3rd spiritual plane", would you address him this way?

I think Mr. or Ms. works fine in formal settings and first names in informal settings.
posted by hworth at 7:55 AM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


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