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Dear AbbéHallo again to all.

Most of our hebdomadal work on Anglicans Online is invisible, and the great majority of it consists in reading, responding to, or otherwise taking action on a vast number of incoming emails. In any given week, we may receive

• an email from a priest in Gauteng demanding that we supply a bell for his church

• a message from a prominent layman in the 'Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh' who attacks us verbally for being homosexuals, and whose frequent communications could easily fall under criminal hate-speech laws of his country

• an inquiry from a secondary school student writing a paper about what the Anglican Church teaches on heaven

• a notification from PayPal telling us that we have received a donation of $50 toward the costs of site maintenance

• a message from a NIC bishop informing us that his denomination's URL has changed for the third time this year

• a request to name what bishops AO is in communion with (For the record, we're not in communion with anyone. Websites don't believe anything, and they certainly don't receive communion, no matter if their creators are baptised and confirmed.)

• a substantial, thoughtful comment on an AO frontpage letter

• a message from a Canadian Anglican priest who told us to go to hell because we did not make a link to his weblog

Unfortunately, this is about the standard proportion of negative to positive communications we receive. We have attempted to grow thick cyberskins, though that is not always easy. And in any case, we want skin and minds that are sensitive enough to be permeable to the kindness, brilliance and sincerity that we know well as the good tones of some of our most faithful readers and correspondents. (May your tribe increase.)

For the good of the order, and the order of the good, we'd like to open our Dear Abbé columns for a moment to highlight a few common problems in the Anglican e-pistolary mess that is our trivial round and common task.

What you wrote What we thought What would work better
Dear AO: My father was an Episcopalian reverend, and I wonder if you can give me a copy of his ordination certificate. Your father was not an Episcopalian reverend, because there is no such thing. He may have been an Episcopal priest. No one is a reverend. No one has ever been a reverend. No one ever will be a reverend. Please do not ever use this word again in this way, because it hurts us in the deepest core of our being.

We did not ordain your father, and we suggest you contact the registrar of the diocese of the bishop who did.

Dear Madam Registrar, Anglican Diocese of Crumbleceister:

My father was an Episcopal priest, and my mother recalls that he was ordained by the Bishop of Crumbleceister. Is it possible to obtain a copy of his ordination certificates in connection with my ongoing genealogical research?

Thank you very much for your time and assistance.

What you wrote What we thought What would work better
Anglican's Online:

My name is Reverend Father Constant Comment Caterwaul Coals. I have a wife named Constance, eleven children, and three cat's. We would like a clergy exchange for April and August next year, in a diocese that teaches all of the Thirty-nine Article's. Our requirement's are central air-conditioning and a good altar guild. My church does not have it's own website.


The plural of Anglican is Anglicans, without an apostrophe — or Anglicani if you really want us to thrill to your message. Our website is called Anglicans Online. The use of apostrophes to make anything plural is utterly unacceptable, and your theological college has done the Anglophone world a disservice by failing to include a remedial prose composition course in its offerings.

Your name is not Reverend Father anything, because you were baptised as you will be buried: Constant Comment Caterwaul Coals. Nor is your title Reverend Father anything, because Reverend Father is a courtesy title for male members of religious orders, and you indicate that you are a married priest. Please pick up Crockford and stand in the corner for half an hour with it.

And what does the plus sign after your name mean? By ancient tradition, some bishops have prefixed a cross to their names, and your custom seems a particular debased following of this practice. The use of + after the names of priests, ++ before the names of primates, and +++ before the name of a primus inter pares confuses us, and can be interpreted correctly as stray marks from Maths class or a programming language we have yet to master.

It's is never possessive, and your church should have its own website. Let us know if you would like our help or suggestions about how to develop one.

Please pass our condolences on to your cats, who are probably in regular breach of at least Article XXIV.

Dear AO:

I would like to place an advert for a clergy exchange next summer. Please let me know the best format to use, and what would be helpful information to include.

Thank you for providing this service.

The Reverend Constant C. C. Coals
St Clement on the Bluff, Mesa (Diocese of Eastern Southwest Virginia)
What you wrote What we thought What would work better
Dear AO:

I have been reading your site for many years, and I have never noticed any mention of some of the most confusing things about Anglican/Episcopal church life: adjectives, titles, forms of address, etc. Our local newspaper refers to our church members as Episcopals, and calls our priest Dr. Is this correct? You may be in a good position to provide a useful resource on this topic for Anglicans everywhere.

I am,

Very truly yours,

Sawyer Swinburne
Vestrymember, Grace Church, Gattaca

Dear Sawyer Swinburne:

You're absolutely right. Thank you for thinking of this, and for taking the time to write.

We'll confer amongst ourselves in the near term.

We are,

Yours gratefully,

Anglicans Online
We've decided to devote a new page on our site to offering guidelines for clergy address and church titles.

The Church of England has long offered such advice, and it seems important enough for the UK Ministry of Justice to offer a fairly comprehensive treatment as well.

The good people of the Anglican Church of Canada also have a good summary of such guidelines.

Watch this space for AO's own offering on the subject.

Words do sometimes seem small things in a broken world. Yet it is in the religion of the Word—by necessity also a religion of words—that we have found a happy place to live and move and have our being. It will be a happier place when we have learned to speak to one another well, and so to speak well of ourselves and to speak well of one another. We'll do our best toward that end, and we know you will, too.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 7 November 2010

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