I’ve never been particularly fussy about how I’m addressed. I’ll happily answer to ‘Michael,’ ‘Vicar,’ ‘Father Michael’ or ‘Mr. Champneys,’ though I prefer not be called ‘Reverend.’ Crockford’s Clerical Directory rather pompously decrees that ‘Reverend’ should never be used this side of the Atlantic without the definite article and a Christian name or initial! ‘Your Reverence’, which always reminds me of the verger in Dad’s Army, is not given as an alternative – but it can hardly fail to raise a smile.
Such niceties of etiquette have always fascinated the Hyacinth Bouquets of this world, and most people like to get them right if they can. But whereas they’re of no great consequence, reverence itself does matter.
According to the Prayer Book catechism, learnt by heart by many generations of children, part of’ ‘my duty towards my neighbour’ is ‘to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters.’ The trouble with that is that it reduces reverence to deference. Of course there’s no denying the value of good manners, but to give the impression that reverence is principally due to those who are senior or socially superior to ourselves is misleading to say the least. Reverence, which I take to mean an attitude of deep and attentive respect, is due to all God’s children. It is displayed most convincingly when shown by the old to the young; by the powerful to the weak.
Reverence is due not only to human beings but also to the animal kingdom, our planet and all creation. Over millions of years climate change and the extinction of species take place naturally. But that’s no reason for us to accelerate these processes by ruthlessly and unnecessarily exploiting the world’s resources. To pollute the earth and destroy life that depends on its bounty is to dishonour God, whose handiwork is an expression of his love.
The interval between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday is the first of two periods in the Church’s calendar whose liturgical colour is (appropriately) green. They are both now usually described as being in ‘Ordinary Time’ - periods which encourage us to find God in the everyday. And that is only possible with reverence, something which is constantly undermined in our distracted, throwaway culture, and which we urgently need to recover.
It can be helpful to note the way in which an artist or true craftsman handles his materials, or a good cook her ingredients – never slapdash and with the minimum of waste - and to try and apply it to whatever we turn our hand to .That is how true reverence - which is an inner disposition and not just a matter of form – is nurtured. Used constructively ‘Ordinary Time’ can be extraordinarily fruitful.