How To Address a Cleric

How To Address a Cleric

Many people get confused with how they are supposed to refer to a cleric, and this guide aims to help. It should be noted, however, that a great deal depends on the circumstance or setting, and also on the personal preference of the cleric concerned. If in doubt, it is best to ask the cleric concerned.

In conversation

Whilst the standard title for a cleric is “the Reverend”, it is not normal to refer to them like this in conversation. Some people will refer to “Vicar” or “Rector”, but usually only when the person they are referring to really is the vicar or rector of the parish where they live. Otherwise, Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Smith is used.

When referring to a cleric in the third person (as in “x was saying to me the other day”), then “the Reverend AB Smith” might be used in a formal context – but only for the first reference to that person, after which Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Smith is used.

Writing a letter

If writing a letter to a cleric, it should be addressed to “the Reverend AB Smith”, but should start “Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Smith”.

“The Reverend AB Smith” is sometimes shortened to “the Rev’d AB Smith”.

Academic titles

If a cleric also holds a doctorate, then in addition to being referred to as “Dr AB Smith” rather than Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms AB Smith, a letter should be addressed to the “Reverend Dr AB Smith”.

Exceptions

The exceptions to these rules come when a cleric holds a further post. There are four main cases to be aware of: Bishops and Archbishops, Archdeacons, Cathedral Deans, and Canons.

Bishops

This is possibly the most well known exception. When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, Bishops should be referred to as “the Right Reverend”. Letters should start “Dear Bishop”.

In conversation, Bishops are usually referred to as “Bishop”, though in formal situations “My Lord” is sometimes used.

When referred to in the third person, then “the Bishop of X” may be used for the first reference and “the Bishop” from then on.

If the Bishop in question is retired or is an Assistant Bishop, “My Lord” is not used, and they are referred to as “the Bishop” in the third person.

Archbishops

When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, the Archbishop should be referred to as “the Most Reverend”. Letters should start “Dear Archbishop”.

In conversation, “Archbishop” is often used, though in more formal situations “Your Grace” is also used.

If being referred to in the third person, “the Archbishop of Wales” might be used for the first reference, and “the Archbishop” for subsequent mentions.

Archdeacons

When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, an Archdeacon is referred to as “the Venerable”. A letter should start “Dear Archdeacon”.

In conversation, an Archdeacon is usually referred to as “Archdeacon”, with a more formal alternative of “Mr Archdeacon”.

In the third person, an Archdeacon may be referred to as “the Archdeacon of X” the first time, and “the Archdeacon” thereafter.

Cathedral Deans

When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, a Cathedral Dean is referred to as “the Very Reverend”. A letter should start “Dear Dean”.

In conversation, a Cathedral Dean is usually referred to as “Dean”, with a more formal alternative of “Mr Dean”.

In the third person, a Dean may be referred to as “the Dean of X” the first time, and “the Dean” thereafter.

Canons

When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, a Canon is referred to as “the Reverend Canon AB Smith”. A letter should start “Dear Canon…”

In conversation, a Canon is usually referred to as “Canon”.

Further exceptions

Titled clerics

If a cleric holds a title, the title is usually placed after their religious title, e.g. the Reverend Sir Alan Smith Bt, if it is mentioned at all. There are a number of exceptions to this rule – for example, a priest would not normally receive the accolade or title of a knighthood unless they received it before they were ordained. Check Crockfords Clerical Directory (available at most reference libraries) for further details.

Clerics who are also members of Religious Orders

When addressing a letter or creating a formal listing, clerics who are members of religious orders may be addressed as “the Reverend AB Smith XYZ”, or possibly “the Reverend Brother Alan/Sister Alice XYZ”.

In conversation, they may be addressed as “Brother Alan” or “Sister Alice” or “Father”, “Father Alan”, or “Father Smith”. The term “Father” is also often used by clerics who have no formal affiliation to a religious order.