Archives October 2015

The Bells! The Bells!

In Churches like ours, the ringing of bells is an established part of our tradition. They call the people to worship on a Sunday from far and wide and are seen by the public as characteristic of Anglican worship. They are, however, not the only bells which can and should be used in our church.

The ringing of bells is an ancient tradition of the church (directly traceable back to before St Paulinus of Campania in the 3rd Century)  and is an important although often overlooked element of worship. We worship with all of our senses: we do not gather simply to read the words of the Holy Communion together, but to celebrate and to do this we use all of God’s gifts:We see the liturgical action


  • We taste the bread and wine transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ who is really present in those sacraments
  • We touch those elements, we touch our neighbour when we share the peace
  • We may have the opportunity to smell – flowers, perfumed candles, incense
  • and we hear the word of God proclaimed and the symbolic ringing of bells

We are multisensory beings and therefore we worship using all of our senses. Some acts of worship are more like this than others: Blessèd, for example, the alternative worship events that take place throughout the diocese are more immersive celebrations, but Evening Prayer on a Sunday when led by Jane are also examples of sight, sound, smell and hearing combining to help us to reach out to God.

Even a small child can be drawn to the ringing of a bell, and it can penetrate through the deafest of ears to point out in symbolic terms key points major stages of the Mass. Where we may be less able in one sense, God provides in other ways, so by using as many of God’s gifts to us in his worship we can all come closer to him.

It is rung at the end of the Sanctus to identify the beginning of the words that Jesus used to institute the eucharist, signifying the epiclesis or sending down of the Holy Spirit on the elements to consecrate them. It is also rung as the priest elevates the elements to expose them to the people to draw attention to this showing.

It is customary for the congregation to make the sign of the cross on themselves as the elements are elevated (and also later when the priest shows both chalice and wafer to the people as he/she says the words “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World…” and when a blessing is given or the priest uses the words “In the name of…”). By making this gesture we begin to pray with our whole bodies: body and soul together.

The bell is also rung as the Priest finishes his/her communion and is an indicator that the people should now come forward to make their own communion.

Each time the bell is rung, it is rung three times, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a momentary pause between each of the three rings because at that point the external church bell can be rung once to signal to all those in this area that these key points of the Mass have been reached. I personally would love to see our witness in this way – and let the world know what we are doing – wouldn’t you?

Isn’t this all an anachronism? I think not, for tradition means building upon the past, and acknowledging our part in the past whilst looking towards the future. In ringing bells we enable people of all abilities, ages and understandings to approach the throne of grace in worship.

We use symbol because words alone are inadequate in our worship and we recapture some of the wonder and awe that we perhaps had as small children and which we want to engender in our young people.


The Sign of the Cross

Self-described “Torah-true Jews” to this day wear tefillin (“phylacteries”) on their foreheads and arms as a sign of their identity and devotion. This practice stems from Deuteronomy 6:4-8:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.

Compare those words with the words of St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. A.D. 386)

“Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor’s sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a show of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honour thy Benefactor.”

The Sign of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old Testament but the New (The Revelation to St John the Divine speaks of those who have the sign of God in their foreheads — and those who have the sign of the Beast in their foreheads). In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop seals the sign on our foreheads with holy chrism. St. John of Damascus wrote

This was given to us as a sign on our forehead, just as the circumcision was given to Israel: for by it we believers are separated and distinguished from unbelievers.

Crossing one’s self recalls this seal, and the invocation that is said while making this holy sign calls on our God — the Father, His Son, and the Holy Ghost — and is a sign of our of belief; it is both a “mini-creed” that asserts our belief in the Triune God, and a prayer that invokes Him. The use of holy water (there is a small silver bowl of holy water on the left outside the vestry in church) when making this sign, such as we do when we enter a church, also recalls our Baptism and should bring to mind that we are born again of water and Spirit, thanks be to God.

The Sign of the Cross is the very mark of our salvation – the cross which sets us free. With the Sign, we send a visible sign to the world.

Making the Sign of the Cross

Typically, the right hand is used. The thumb, index, and middle finger are brought to a point. They are then placed on the forehead, then moved down to the sternum. The Western Rite Catholic will then move the hand to the left shoulder or to the area of the left pectoral muscle, and then to the right; the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox will do the opposite (i.e. right, then left). As one moves through the Sign, one recites, at the forehead, “In the name of the Father”; at the sternum, “and of the Son”; and across the shoulders, “and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.”

The sign is made:

  • When the invocation of “In the name of the…” is used
  • When a blessing is given
  • When the sacred elements are elevated
  • When the sacred elements are displayed to the people during the mass or during exposition or benediction.




Act of Remembrance (Liturgy)

As we gather we have the opportunity to reflect on these Holy Scriptures

God is our refuge and strength;
a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46.1

I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from whence will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121.1-2

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Lamentations 3.21-23


Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40.31

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6.8


We gather outside at the Memorial where there is one outside our Church, or indoors.


They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember them.

We will remember them.

Two Minute Silence

The flags are lowered. We hear the Last Post, the two minute silence and then the Reveille. Wreaths are then laid at the Memorial,

Ever-living God
we remember those whom you have gathered
from the storm of war into the peace of your presence;
may that same peace calm our fears,
bring justice to all peoples
and establish harmony among the nations,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We then sing our opening hymn as we return into Church

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven
who like thee his praise should sing?
Praise him! Praise him!
Praise the everlasting King!

Praise him for his grace and favour
to our fathers in distress;
praise him still the same for ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless:
Praise him! Praise him!
Glorious in his faithfulness!

Father-like he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his hands he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes:
Praise him! Praise him!
Widely as his mercy flows!

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish,
blows the wind and it is gone;
but while mortals rise and perish
God endures unchanging on.
Praise him! Praise him!
Praise the high eternal One!

Angels, help us to adore him,
ye behold him face to face;
sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers all in time and space:
Praise him! Praise him!
Praise with us the God of grace!

Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
The Lord be with you
and also with you

We meet in the presence of God.
We commit ourselves to work in penitence and faith
for reconciliation between the nations,
that all people may, together,
live in freedom, justice and peace.
We pray for all who in bereavement, disability and pain
continue to suffer the consequences of fighting and terror.
We remember with thanksgiving and sorrow those whose lives,
in world wars and conflicts past and present,
have been given and taken away.

Penitential Rite

Let us confess to God the sins and shortcomings of the world;
its pride, its selfishness, its greed;
its evil divisions and hatreds.

Let us confess our share in what is wrong,
and our failure to seek and establish that peace
which God wills for his children


Lord have Mercy Lord have Mercy
Christ have Mercy Christ have Mercy
Lord have Mercy Lord have Mercy


Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon you, + pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Word of God

A reader says:

Hear these words from the New Testament

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
John 14:27

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest ofrighteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
James 3:17-18

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5

These are the words of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Another reader says:
A reading from the Gospel of Matthew:   (Matthew 5:1-12)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God


Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us,
Lord of the word, receive your people’s praise.

Lord, for our land, in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care;
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him,
loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain;
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him,
Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us,
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;
past put behind us, for the future take us,
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
Timothy Dudley-Smith (b.1926)


Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict, and ask that God may give us peace:

for the service men and women who have died in the violence of war, each one remembered by and known to God; May God give peace
God give peace

For those who love them in death as in life, offering the distress of our grief and the sadness of our loss; May God give peace
God give peace

for all members of the armed forces who are in danger this day, remembering family, friends and all who pray for their safe return;
May God give peace
God give peace

for civilian women, children and men whose lives are disfigured by war or terror, calling to mind in penitence the anger and hatreds of humanity; May God give peace
God give peace

for peace-makers and peace-keepers, who seek to keep this world secure and free; May God give peace
God give peace

for all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership, political, military and religious; asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve in the search for reconciliation and peace. May God give peace
God give peace

O God of truth and justice, we hold before you those whose memory
we cherish, and those whose names we will never know.

+Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord
and let light perpetual shine upon them

May they rest in peace
and rise in glory
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world, and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm. As we honour the past, may we put our faith in your future; for you are the source of life and hope, now and for ever. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
for ever and ever.



The Congregation are invited to come forward to  offer symbols of remembrance and hope, such as single flowers or crosses at the foot of the altar as music is played.


Act of Commitment

Let us commit ourselves to responsible living and faithful service.

Will you strive for all that makes for peace?
We will
Will you seek to heal the wounds of war?
We will

Will you work for a just future for all humanity?
We will

Merciful God, we offer to you the fears in us
that have not yet been cast out by love:
May we accept the hope you have placed
in the hearts of all people,
And live lives of justice, courage and mercy;
through Jesus Christ our risen Redeemer.

The Kohima Epitaph

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
for your tomorrow we gave our today.

Blessing and Dismissal

God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest,
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all people,
unity, peace and concord,
and to us and all God’s servants, life everlasting.
and the blessing of God Almighty,
+Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all
and remain with you always.

Go in the peace of Christ
Thanks be to God

The National Anthem is sung after which we may depart

The National Anthem

God save our gracious Queen,
long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious, happy and glorious,
long to reign over us: God save the Queen!

One realm of races four, blest more and ever more,
God save our land!
Home of the brave and free, set in the silver sea,
True nurse of chivalry, God save our land!

Of many a race and birth from utmost ends of earth,
God save us all!
Bid strife and hatred cease, bid hope and joy increase,
spread universal peace, God save us all!

Official Peace Version (1919)

Passing Water

At the entrance to the church there is a small dish of water, dwarfed by our elegant font, so often walked past, so often ignored and yet a vital reminder for everyone of the power of our baptism in Christ.Picture2

The water in there is never there long enough to get stagnant, because at each baptism, the water is renewed; for this water is holy and it is intended for us to remind ourselves of our baptism each and every time we come into church.

Dip your finger into the cooling water, make the sign of the cross by touching your forehead, abdomen, right shoulder and then left shoulder. If you are coming in with someone else, dip your finger in and offer it to them for them to do so: the waters of baptism are to be shared, as God so willingly shares the salvation they promise with you.

In making this sign, we are reminded that from the waters of Baptism we are grafted as the children of Christ and have an indelible mark inscribed upon our souls marking us as Christ’s own forever.

Although the water on our forehead will evaporate in a few moments, Baptism is for all time: a sign to us of salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. What better way for us to begin our worship of the Almighty than to be reminded of this great act of the love of God towards us before we offer Him our thanks and praise?

But is this just another example of Romish practice imported into our fine Anglican Church? Just like all the other things discussed in these articles, the sharing and use of Holy Water has been a feature of Anglicanism before, during and after the Reformation and became most visible under the Oxford Movement. We sometimes forget the heritage of the Church of England and lose sight of the fact that it has always seen itself as Catholic and Reformed.

We are all, and have always been Catholics because we state a firm belief in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church”. Catholic means universal, and does not mean “Roman Catholic”.

In being Catholics, this does not automatically make us what used to be called “High Church”, for that label has not really been relevant to the Church of England since the 1930’s. Just as many of the ‘free churches’ are rediscovering ritual and symbolism, so the Church of England has increasingly become aware of its rich liturgical and symbol heritage carried through the Prayer Book, the English Missal and into Common Worship.

At the heart of this is a yearning to reach out to God with more than just words, using all of our senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste) to engage with God’s wondrous creation and to try to express the inexpressible. By worshipping with more than just our lips, we celebrate our humanity in all its diversity:

“Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord” (Psalm 150)

Why is it called Mass?

Picture1Some may be mystified by my habit of calling the most important act of worship to the Christian Community ‘Mass’. Surely, one might think, that Mass was something exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, and what was wrong with Holy Communion or The Eucharist ? However, if we pause to reflect, the Mass is indeed a word in common Anglican Usage – every 24th of December, Midnight Mass is openly celebrated by Anglican Churches of all traditions as the first act of worship of Christmas. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer also referred to this worship as ‘comonly called the Masse’.

If we look closer, we can note that Holy Communion and the Eucharist refer to specific parts of the wider act of worship: Holy Communion refers to the actual partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whilst the Eucharist (Greek for ‘Thanksgiving’) speaks really of the portion of worship which consecrates the elements of bread and wine into the Blessèd Sacrament and Precious Blood. Only the term Mass speaks of the whole act of worship (as does Divine Liturgy the Orthodox word used.

Mass itself is rooted in the Latin word Missio meaning to send, and is therefore related to Mission. It is in the sense therefore of the people of God gathering together (amassing, perhaps?) and then, empowered by the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, being sent out to make a difference to the world, hence the use of the ancient dismissal: ite missa est – go, the mass is ended […and you are now sent out to do God’s work. I would therefore want to reclaim the word from the exclusive jurisdiction of Rome, and keep it within common Anglican usage, as used in a number of other parishes within Plymouth and within the wider Diocese.



At last we have proof of Fr. Simon’s impending senility: we have seen him muttering to himself during the Mass! Even if you have not had the opportunity to join us for worship at one of the short, simple said masses during the week when we are gathered in the Sanctuary, you will probably only have seen his lips move and may wonder what is being said.

These are not sly instructions to the servers, but a series of prayers asking for God’s help and support as the priest undertakes various key parts of the Eucharist.

As the Priest puts on the alb, stole and chasuble, he says quietly various prayers of preparation, based upon Ephesians 6:13-17 which is why it is desirable for there to be a few moments of quietness before the beginning of the service, so that both choir, servers, readers and clergy may be properly prepared.

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Before the Gospel, the Priest turns to the altar and asks for God’s blessing on him on my heart and on my lips that I may worthily proclaim God’s Holy Gospel ‘. This is based upon the words of Psalm 51:15. If the Gospel is to be read by a Deacon, then this blessing is sought from the president of the mass, and if the Bishop is present, then a Priest will seek the blessing from the Bishop.

During the offertory hymn, as the elements are brought to the altar, the Priest gives thanksgiving to God for them. In a said mass, these are said aloud and the congregation responds to them. They are based upon the Jewish Berakah or table prayers which are the basis of the whole Eucharistic structure. God is blessed for his gifts and is asked that our offering of them will be suitable. It is thought the Berakah grew out of the grain-offering made to God (Leviticus 2:14), and is characterised by its transformation into the ‘Bread of Life’ (John 6:35) and ‘Our Spiritual Drink’ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).

After the elements are placed on the altar, (if incense is used, the elements and the clergy are censed at this point to signify the process of transformation into something holy and set apart), the Priest then bows before the altar and says sotto voce: ‘Lord, we ask you to be pleased with the sacrifice we offer with humble and contrite hearts’ (Isaiah 57:15). S/He then turns to the server to ritually clean the hands with the words: ‘Lord, wash me from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin’ (Psalm 51:2)81861840c92c2174a66544edc6cbf6c4

In the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, as Blessed Sacrament and Precious Blood are elevated to show to the congregation, you will often see Fr. Simon say his own prayer of devotion towards the sacraments. This is most commonly the words of S. Thomas the Apostle from John 20:28 and (to my mind) the most profound statment of faith “My Lord and My God“.

After the consecration and the presentation of the sacraments to the people, the priest prays “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy, I eat your body and drink your blood. May it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body’’, before partaking of the sacraments. As a prayer of preparation before receiving, it is a very effective one, and I commend it to you all before you engage with the holy mysteries.

As you can see, the whole of the Mass is wrapped up in prayer and scripture, as your priest and other clergy celebrate in partnership with you these most special gifts. The whole of the mass is a form of prayer, not just the intercessions or the Eucharist. Your participation in that is vital, for your response, your ‘Amen’ (“let it be so”) echoes the company of heaven (Revelation 5:14). I encourage you all therefore to participate in that continuous cycle of prayer that is worship: to lift your eyes from the reading sheet to the mysteries of salvation replayed on the altar and to stand in the presence of God made known in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine.


“Call No Man Father…” (or Mother)

An exploration of how you are encouraged to address your clergyPicture1

Many claim that when Anglocatholics in the Church of England address priests as “Father,” (and since the ordination of women, “Mother”) they are engaging in an unbiblical practice that Jesus forbade: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9).

However, there is a long and established tradition of this within the Church of England with a solid biblical base which goes beyond a merely simplistic and fundamentalist reading of Matthew 23:9

Generally this post will focus on ‘Father’ but everything written here applies to ‘Mother’ as well and equally.


To understand why the charge does not work, one must first understand the use of the word “father” in reference to our earthly fathers. No one would deny a little girl the opportunity to tell someone that she loves her father. Common sense tells us that Jesus wasn’t forbidding this type of use of the word “Father.”

In fact, to forbid it would rob the address “Father” of its meaning when applied to God, for there would no longer be any earthly counterpart for the analogy of divine Parenthood. The concept of God’s role as Father would be meaningless if we obliterated the concept of earthly parenthood.

But in the Bible the concept of parenthood is not restricted to just our earthly fathers and God. It is used to refer to people other than biological or legal mothers or fathers, and is used as a sign of respect to those with whom we have a special relationship. For example: Joseph tells his brothers of a special fatherly relationship God had given him with the king of Egypt: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 45:8).

Job indicates he played a fatherly role with the less fortunate: “I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know” (Job 29:16). And God himself declares that he will give a fatherly role to Eliakim, the steward of the house of David: “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a robe, and will bind [a girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (Is. 22:20–21).

This type of parenthood not only applies to those who are wise counsellors (like Joseph) or benefactors (like Job) or both (like Eliakim), it also applies to those who have a fatherly spiritual relationship with one. For example, Elisha cries, “My father, my father!” to Elijah as the latter is carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:12). Later, Elisha himself is called a father by the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 6:21).

A Change with the New Testament?

Some argue that this usage changed with the New Testament—that while it may have been permissible to call certain men “father” in the Old Testament, since the time of Christ, it’s no longer allowed. This argument fails for several reasons.

First, as we’ve seen, the imperative “call no man father” does not apply to one’s biological father. It also doesn’t exclude calling one’s ancestors “father,” as is shown in Acts 7:2, where Stephen refers to “our father Abraham,” or in Romans 9:10, where Paul speaks of “our father Isaac.”

Second, there are numerous examples in the New Testament of the term “father” being used as a form of address and reference, even for men who are not biologically related to the speaker. There are, in fact, so many uses of “father” in the New Testament, that the literal interpretation of Matthew 23 (and the objection to calling priests “father” or “mother”) must be wrong, as we shall see.

Third, a careful examination of the context of Matthew 23 shows that Jesus didn’t intend for his words here to be understood literally. The whole passage reads, “But you are not to be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ” (Matt. 23:8–10).

The first problem is that although Jesus seems to prohibit the use of the term “teacher,” in Matthew 28:19–20, Christ himself appointed certain men to be teachers in his Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Paul speaks of his commission as a teacher: “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7); “For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11). He also reminds us that the Church has an office of teacher: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28); and “his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). There is no doubt that Paul was not violating Christ’s teaching in Matthew 23 by referring so often to others as “teachers.”

People have no problem calling all sorts of people “doctor,” for example, medical doctors, as well as professors and scientists who have PhD degrees (ie, doctorates). What they fail to realize is that “doctor” is simply the Latin word for “teacher.” Even “Mister” and “Mistress” (“Mrs.”) are forms of the word “master,” also mentioned by Jesus. So if his words in Matthew 23 were meant to be taken literally, many would be just as guilty for using the word “teacher” and “doctor” and “mister” as Anglocatholics for saying “Father” or “Mother”. But clearly, that would be a misunderstanding of Christ’s words.

So What Did Jesus Mean?

Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love “the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7). His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige.

He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and parenthood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.

Christ used hyperbole often, for example when he declared, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29, cf. 18:9; Mark 9:47). Christ certainly did not intend this to be applied literally, for otherwise all Christians would be blind amputees! (cf. 1 John 1:8; 1 Tim. 1:15). We are all subject to “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

Since Jesus is demonstrably using hyperbole when he says not to call anyone our father—else we would not be able to refer to our earthly fathers as such—we must read his words carefully and with sensitivity to the presence of hyperbole if we wish to understand what he is saying.

Jesus is not forbidding us to call people “fathers” or “mothers” who actually are such—either literally or spiritually. (See below on the apostolic example of spiritual parenthood.) To refer to such people as fathers is only to acknowledge the truth, and Jesus is not against that. He is warning people against inaccurately attributing parenthood—or a particular kind or degree of parenthood—to those who do not have it.

As the apostolic example shows, some individuals genuinely do have a spiritual parenthood, meaning that they can be referred to as spiritual fathers or mothers. What must not be done is to confuse their form of spiritual parenthood with that of God. Ultimately, God is our supreme protector, provider, and instructor. Correspondingly, it is wrong to view any individual other than God as having these roles.

Throughout the world, some people have been tempted to look upon religious leaders who are mere mortals as if they were an individual’s supreme source of spiritual instruction, nourishment, and protection. The tendency to turn mere humans into “gurus” is worldwide.

This was also a temptation in the Jewish world of Jesus’ day, when famous rabbinical leaders, especially those who founded important schools, such as Hillel and Shammai, were highly exalted by their disciples. It is this elevation of an individual person—the formation of a “cult of personality” around him—of which Jesus is speaking when he warns against attributing to someone an undue role as master, father, or teacher.

He is not forbidding the perfunctory use of honorifics nor forbidding us to recognize that the person does have a role as a spiritual father and teacher. In fact, to call someone “Father” or “Mother” continually reminds the priest of their responsibility as a Spiritual Parent. The example of his own apostles shows us that.

The Apostles Show the Way

The New Testament is filled with examples of and references to spiritual father-son and father-child relationships. Many people are not aware just how common these are, so it is worth quoting some of them here.

Paul regularly referred to Timothy as his child: “Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17); “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2); “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:2).

He also referred to Timothy as his son: “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Tim 1:18); “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1); “But Timothy’s worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22).

Paul also referred to other of his converts in this way: “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour” (Titus 1:4); “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (Philem. 10). None of these men were Paul’s literal, biological sons. Rather, Paul is emphasizing his spiritual parenthood with them.

Spiritual Parenthood

Perhaps the most pointed New Testament reference to the theology of the spiritual parenthood of priests is Paul’s statement, “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15).

Peter followed the same custom, referring to Mark as his son: “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark” (1 Pet. 5:13). The apostles sometimes referred to entire churches under their care as their children. Paul writes, “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor. 12:14); and, “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19).

John said, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1); “No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth” (3 John 4). In fact, John also addresses men in his congregations as “fathers” (1 John 2:13–14). Given that Scripture was written almost entirely using the male form of address as was the cultural custom then, we have no problem with understanding that when one reads in the bible of “Men” he also means “Women” and so on.

By referring to these people as their spiritual children, Peter, Paul, and John imply their own roles as spiritual parents. Since the Bible frequently speaks of this spiritual parenthood, we should acknowledge it and follow the custom of the apostles by calling priests “father” or “mother”. Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to recognize and honour a great gift God has bestowed on the Church: the spiritual parenthood of the priesthood.

We should recognise that as members of a parish, they have been committed to a priest’s spiritual care, thus they have great filial affection for priests and call them “father.” Priests, in turn, follow the apostles’ biblical example by referring to members of their flock as “my son” or “my child” (cf. Gal. 4:19; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:1; Philem. 10; 1 Pet. 5:13; 1 John 2:1; 3 John 4).

“Mother” seems really odd…

In the Church of England, women have only been ordained to the priesthood since 1992, so yes indeed it may be unfamiliar to refer to a female priest as “Mother” and yet, in the context of Spiritual Parenthood, can there be any other more appropriate phrase? However, as the generations pass, and we grow used to women in ordained ministry, what might have been strange will become usual. In the 1920s, female Doctors were similarly thought to be strange, and yet now…


The biblical foundation of this practice and the recognition of the role of the priest as Spiritual Mother or Father needs to be recognised. It is a longstanding tradition within certain parts of the Church of England, and reminds your clergy of the challenging role that they take on to nuture their flock, their spiritual children. If the clergy in question prefers to be addressed in this way, then should you not do so?