Call No Man Father

You can hear it in many comedy routines -a mother complains to her child, “Why don’t you call your mother more often?” I don’t know if I ever heard of a father complaining  in the same way. When my son went off to college, I found myself reminding him via the social media to call his mother. He eventually got around to it. I’m trying to remember if I called home after I went off to college. I don’t think I did.

In the Orthodox Church, we call the priest “Father.” It is an title that reflects both the position and work of the priest, and also is a term of endearment. Its shows the close relationship that he has with members in his parish. The hope is that over time a real trusting relationship will develop and the priest will be able to offer advice that is effective in spiritual life. Of course, this takes communication and plenty of it.

So, is it just me? It seems that few call the priest or only call where there is a problem. “Call no man father” has now be changed to “no call father, man.”  If I happen to mention this in passing conversation, the excuse is twofold. First, folks tell me how busy they are. There’s no time to call or it doesn’t come to mind. On the other side, some will say that they don’t call because they don’t want to disturb me because they know how busy I am.

Really? Would I say this to my local doctor? “Hey, I would have called for an appointment, but I know how busy you are.”  I don’t think so. Just as a doctor is paid to hear about physical complaints, a priest is called (and sometimes paid) to hear the spiritual complaints of his members. A priest goes through many internal states when the phone is silent for so long.  You begin to worry about what’s going on out there. Then, when folks come to church and tell you how bad a week its been, you wonder why they didn’t call.  I have a phrase that I misquote to make the point. “When the going gets tough, the tough… the priest.”  Folks laugh and nod, but still don’t call.  I remember part of an old poem: “When mom is sick, the doctor’s called, and he gets a big fat check. But Father, he is never called, and gets it in the neck!”

I’ve had the experience over the years of people asking me to be their “spiritual father.”  At first, I am shocked because anyone who knows me at all understands that I am no elder. I hope that I genuinely care about people, and I do want to help, yet all I can do is listen and offer what advice I have. So, I am honored that they ask me. However, I have found that when I do accept the position of spiritual father,  the calls are less frequent and sometimes stop altogether. It seems that taking on the parental role, even in spiritual matters, puts them in the “no call” mode.

Therefore, I’ve decided that I will only accept the role of spiritual friend. We call friends more than we call parents, so maybe this way I can talk more with people that I love and with whom I have a connection.  So, don’t call me Father unless you are using the title as an Orthodox should do in Church. Consider me a friend and give me call, will ya?



5 Responses to “Call No Man Father”

  1. Fr Richard Says:

    Thank you Father, encouraging for us new Priests!!

  2. Mary Says:

    Very interesting – thinking about this – ministers never call their parishoners. At least ours doesn’t – does Father call his members – ours doesn’t. Thinking maybe this is a two way street. Maybe, like us, the flock feels they are bothering you. Don’t know about this one – just a passing thought – know I love you think of you as loving, gentle, family.

  3. Tim Smith Says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the wonderful photo of you and the very nice posting! One of these years we surely will re-connect! Right now, I’m in the midst of connecting with a whole, LARGE part of my father’s family whose existence I didn’t even know of until a few months ago. Let THAT pique your curiosity enough to write me!


  4. frjohn Says:

    Hi, Tim. I sent you an email. I hope all is well.

  5. John Swensen Says:

    Father bless. Does this mean you’ll call me back?
    With love in Christ,
    Reader John S.

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