Friday, November 15, 2013

Ms. or Mrs.?

This fall,  I had the opportunity to substitute teach.
For six weeks I wandered into middle school science and social studies classrooms,
kindergarten wonderlands,
first grade intensity,
and everything in between.

Always, in each new assignment, I was asked,
are you Ms. Miller, or Mrs. Miller.

At first, I just said, it doesn't matter.

But it does, I know.

When I was teaching in the late 80's and 90's, I was emphatically MS. Miller.
Not Miss Miller.  Not Mrs. Miller.
I didn't feel like I should have to have my marital status be a part of how my students and their parents perceived me.  Men only have one choice--Mr. -------.   I know that most people at that time and place thought that I ought to just give in to the sexist paradigm.  They all knew that Ms.  was just a feminist who was single.

Apparently, here, in another part of the country, and a new millennium, the Miss has been dropped.  And it wasn't clear whether Ms.  was just non-sexist, but I felt like when I was asked, that Ms. meant single and Mrs. mean married.  OR--actually, Mrs. meant you were married, but Ms. was more neutral.

Here is the thing--this fall, I started off as being Ms.   You know, the whole neutral, non-sexist word.

But then, the children, especially the little ones, would call me Mrs., and hey, it wasn't worth correcting a six year old, especially as a temporary teacher for the day.  And--I found I liked being Mrs. Miller!   I  *am* married, for goodness sake.  To a wonderful woman.

So, for a few weeks, I just went with being Mrs. Miller.  The first time in my 50 years of life, and I liked the public addition to my identity.

Here is another thing--I now am at the age I don't mind it if I am called "Miss".  This happens ONLY at Starbucks, so I think it must be a customer service rule--call all the women "Miss" unless obviously she looks older than your mother.  Oh my goodness, I would have been ruffled to pieces if this happened to me when I was 33.

It's funny, though, how the title in front of our names means something.  Or not.  For example, I am proud that I am Rev. Karla, or Pastor Karla.  I worked HARD for that!   Those who have earned a post-graduate degree, whether Ph.D. or D. Min or Ed.D.   have earned that DR. in front of their name.

When I was a college chaplain, my name was always listed formally as The Reverend Karla Miller.   The students started calling me "The Rev."    I must admit, I loved that, because it was a term of endearment.

But in congregational polity, we hold close to the priesthood of all believers, and since I don't call my parishioners Ms. Polly, or Mr. Mark,  why should they call me Pastor Karla?   I know this is common in many Christian traditions.  I know that in the denomination of my cradle, Pastor is like a first name.  You just don't refer to the minister by her first name alone.  Or--you don't very often.

So, on Sunday, during the children's time, my colleague in ministry was introducing me to the children, and asked me what I would like for them to call me.  I sort of flustered in the moment, because I hadn't thought about it--in my last parish I was a mix of Rev, Pastor Karla, and Karla to all ages.    That just evolved.

Without thinking, I said, "Karla is great!"

After musing about this,  it was the perfect thing to say.

I wonder, if part of my thrill of being called Mrs. was in part because it gave me a little sense of identity that fed into my ego.  I was a Teacher!  A Wife!

Part of the landscape of the past few months of sabbatical and time off  involved a stripping off the outer ways in which I identified with the world--and gained a sense of worthiness from those identities.  Not always a good thing to do.

So I am really grateful for having that time in not being a pastor in a congregation (it can be quite heady, you know, at times....).   It gave me pause to consider my calling.  Was I continued to be called to parish ministry?  Should I start a dog walking business?  Get my teaching certificate?

It also gave me space to be myself,  reconnect with my deep self, my knowing self.   This wasn't always easy, mind you--I did a couple of temp jobs where I wanted to SHOUT OUT "do you KNOW what I AM?? A freakin' professional that doesn't give a flip about counting ceiling tiles!!!"  Humbling, at its best.  Its very best.

And I had to remember, over and over, that the most important part of me is that I am Beloved.  And that I am called to be Love, as best I can, in this world.   Whether or not I am Ms., Miss, Pastor, or Mrs.  

Thanks be to God.


  1. Hey, friend. I love this blog post and the ways you worked through titles and identity. The church you are serving now is blessed, blessed, blessed.
    Mrs. Johnston

  2. "Called to be Love." Beautiful.