What’s in a name?

On March 26, 2012 I wrote about being asked to serve on the board of a local ministry and the surprise I felt in seeing my name in the minutes, being referred to as “Reverend Cathy Byrd” for the first time.  As a commissioned deacon, I am allowed, even encouraged by the Order of Deacons, to use that title, as the role of clergy is one that a provisional deacon pursuing ordination is expected to live into.   In April 2014, in the midst of some career changes, my status and role as clergy was challenged by several people outside of the Methodist Church, then even by some within my own congregation who don’t understand the Methodist process for clergy training and equipping and the role of a deacon.  After discussions with pastors in my church and others, feeling the need to explain myself to people who should know my heart and reasons for using a clergy title, I wrote the following explanation.

“What’s in a Name? 

Several people have asked me and others at Lynn Haven UMC about my use of the title “reverend”.  Here is an explanation regarding my professional use of this title and its reflection of a particular calling and purpose on my life. 

We all know that words mean something.  However, there may be those who do not understand the meaning of “reverend” in the same way that those who have been called to a vocation in ministry do.  Frankly, too, there has been recently an effort to challenge the pastoral authority that the UMC has given me by some who deny the validity of women in ministry or desire to call into question the ministry to which I am called.  At one point, it required a letter from our UMC District Superintendent Gary Daniels to some who denied my call to and authority for ministry.  It is not uncommon for women in ministry to encounter resistance to their vocation in ministry and usually by those who come from a theological posture that is different from that of the United Methodist Church which has sanctioned women in ministry since John Wesley granted the first license to preach to Sarah Crosby in 1761 .     
When I made the decision to return to graduate school for counseling and psychology, after working in lay counseling for 10 years, first as a facilitator of a women’s depression impact group from 1998 to 2004, then as a trained Celebrate Recovery leader beginning in 2004, I knew that I was called to the ministry of spiritual and emotional healing. It appears that the tremendous growth in programs and practitioners in the field of Christian counseling in the last twenty years reflects the church’s understanding of the need to reclaim its historic role in healing ministry.  I told Dr. George Horvat, my graduate school advisor, that I did not want to pursue state licensure as a licensed mental health counselor because of the constraint that such licensure places upon one to refrain from intentional, proactive evangelism and use of Scripture and faith principles to do directive counseling from a Biblical perspective.  He, also a Christian, said that the Lord would guide me into my role and credentials as a counselor and that I should follow that guidance.

The time and education required to me to qualify to counsel from a state licensed perspective or from a religious ordained perspective in the Methodist Church are similar:

Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Christian Counselor in the Methodist Church
60 graduate semester hours in counseling/psychology
36 graduate semester hours in counseling/psychology
1000 hours internship included in academic work
100 hours practicum included in academic work
30 graduate semester hours in theological studies at an accredited seminary
Commissioned/licensed as deacon in counseling/education
 2 years residency under supervision
2-3 years or longer in residency under supervision
State license as licensed mental health counselor
Ordination to Order of Deacons-counseling and education
 Additionally, I have paraprofessional certification in Christian Education through a UMC program with Columbia College, recognized by the Alabama-West Florida Conference to which I belong.   

As I looked at the time, academic hours, and supervision requirements, the two routes were similar in demands, but the equipping through the second route to counseling credentials, through the Church instead of through the Florida State Board of Licensure, more closely matched what I believed expressed my calling by the Lord. I have been in the ministry candidacy program for deacon ordination since September 2008, fulfilling the requirements of the United Methodist Church’s Discipline  in pursuit of the privilege of counseling under its authority in the name of Jesus Christ.

Use of the title “reverend” is simply an acknowledgement of that calling and my submission to the Church’s requirements for the  privilege to do what I’ve been called to do under its authority.  Using it before my name is no different than using “LMHC”, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, as a suffix after one’s name, indicating my vocational equipping.   Some appear to have interpreted it as prideful exalting of myself to a position to which I am not entitled.  My choice to refer to myself professionally demonstrates my compliance with the Church’s requirements for Christian counseling education and training, according to the Discipline.
 “Reverend” shows that I chose a Christian vocational route instead of a State secular route.  MS shows that my equipping is in the field of psychology instead of with a Masters in Divinity (MDIV) and the CRSS shows that I am under a lesser credential to the State Board of Certification (instead of the Board of Licensure) as a Certified Recovery Support Specialist, a step below Certified Addictions Counselor or Certified Addictions Professional.  That certification was achieved by having the required academic hours in counseling and completing 2000 hours in training under supervision in a qualified addictions care facility, which I completed in 2008 with the 14th Judicial Circuit DUI School.  While lay people won’t necessarily know what has gone into this designation or what the various components mean, it accurately expresses what I have been called to do and what the Church will permit me to do under its authority and with accountability to the Church.  Addictions professionals and other authorities who work among our clients will recognize the designations.
 As a provisional Deacon now in the final stages of candidacy before ordination, which is a lifelong designation conferred by the Church, I am advised by the Order of Deacons to “live into my calling” and begin operating within the activities of the role that will define the rest of my life.  Use of the title “reverend” is part of that orientation of my life and states how I intend to operate professionally as a counselor.   I am happy to try to help others understand this process and role.  This is an effort to help educate people about the Deacon role within the United Methodist Church to which I am called.   This is part of my job, as much as my service to my own church’s staff and congregation and to the community. 
 In addition to this issue of the authority granted by the Church, there are several other reasons why my use of the pastoral designation is significant.   I am often required to operate in an advocacy role for women or their children with the judicial system, civil authorities, juvenile protection service personnel, healthcare facilities, and other authorities.  The sensitive nature of the information that is sometimes involved requires that my credentials be clear, my understanding of my ethical and legal responsibilities be well defined, and that my clients’ confidentiality be protected.  Pastoral standing provides my clients state and federal protection against disclosure of pastor-client confidential information and enables me to operate professionally in certain court-ordered roles, such as probationary supervision and supervised parental visitation with children under the care of the Department of Children and Families.    

Also, with my missional calling among people who have often demonstrated a lack of respect for civil and moral law, personal property rights, and their own or other’s boundaries, it is generally observed that, because of at least some fear of God or early life training, they will respect the mantle of spiritual authority that they observe in one who has a calling by God on her life.  Because of my use of “reverend” and their knowledge that I operate in my role as a counselor under God’s authority, they will often grant me the authority and permission to serve them or their family.  My motives are less suspect and my ability to express spiritual authority when necessary is respected.  When “reverend” is present, prayers are sought, counsel of the Word is received, and hope is fostered.  It is a blessing to represent Christ to some who have felt unworthy of His attention and love.  My title is not honorary or for my benefit; it is entirely for the benefit of those whom I desire to comfort and serve, signaling to them in no uncertain terms why I am there and in whose name I serve.

I hope these thoughts about my title and what it means to me, to our United Methodist church, and to those whom I serve will help others better understand my role as clergy.  I trust that these reasons for the use of the “honorific” title will be received not as self-serving and prideful, but will be understood in the context of how I understand God’s calling on my life to a specific purpose and to a specific people.  It is not, primarily to those who understand “reverend” in a particular traditional way that confers honor to those who wear it, but it is for the benefit of those who are in desperate need of the care and comfort that the title defines and which I am called to bring to a hurting world. 

I trust that this perspective will help provide understanding of my credentials as a provisional deacon. 
Reverend Cathy Byrd, MS CRSS
Christian Recovery Counselor and Educator

Now, just this past week, I was checking out with a purchase at a local department store.  I needed the clerk to check on something and call me later.  To make things easy, I gave her a business card for Titus 2 Partnership, Inc. ministry with my name, “Rev. Cathy Byrd, MS CRSS”.  She instantly warmed to me and began to talk to me about her daughter, for whom she sought prayer.  The daughter is 21 years old and has struggled with depression since early in her teen years.  We talked for a while and she said she wanted to call me to talk further.  This is a case, where just the individual knowing that I am clergy changed my role in her life……from customer requesting assistance to someone able to offer her encouragement and hope.  

I have been told by some elders in the UMC that I don’t need ordination to do  what I do.  Perhaps not.  I certainly can continue to do what the Lord has called and equipped me to do without the official sanction of the church.  But it is my position that the UM Church needs to have me and others like me who are called to the ministry of spiritual education/formation and emotional healing through counseling and teaching,  ordained to the Order of Deacons or to the Order of Elders, to minister to hurting people in this world, to connect them to Jesus Christ and the fellowship and ministry of the church.  The deacon’s role is defined by “connecting the church to the world and the world to the church.”  That has been my passion for years.  And even  my passion has been questioned by some within the church who don’t understand what I do and why.    

Jesus told us that following him would subject us to persecution and ridicule.  I expected that and have encountered it at times.  However,  it was  not expected to arise from within my own church, my own congregation, or my own workplace where people were thought to be desiring to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ.  I thought we were all working toward the same goals.

I have mostly dropped the use of the title “Reverend” in correspondence and elsewhere, as I do not wish to  be perceived, as some have suggested, of using it out of pompous pridefulness or in order to present myself as something I am not, even though it is quite legitimate for my ministry status and role.  Having had those  business cards made at a time when this was not yet such an issue, I simply kept them and have been using them occasionally when a business  card seemed necessary.   And this incident this week at the department store confirms what I had said in April when I was called in and asked why I was using this clergy designation title.  People relate differently to someone whom they perceive as having the mantle of spiritual authority.  And though my authority is essentially nonexistent among people within the Methodist church or in society at large, it is there, nonetheless, by virtue of God’s calling on my life, with certain people in the world ….. those whom God brings into my life for the purpose of having me minister to them and they respond to my identified role as clergy with relief, hope, and expectation that I will bring Christ’s Word to bear on their circumstances.  And I try to do that.