Jan & Dr. Edmiston

I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2001.  I didn’t plan to call myself Dr. Edmiston although several of my parishioners at the time insisted that both the worship bulletin and church stationery reflect the fact that the church had a pastor who was a “Doctor.”

All three of my pastor predecessors were “Rev. Dr.” but I learned that each of them actually had honorary doctorates from a Christian college that the church supported financially.  Yet they were each called Dr. ___ until they died.

Mostly people have called me “Jan” or “Pastor Jan” and this is okay with me because as an educated White Woman, I grew up with the expectation that I belonged in most any professional context you might find me.  I didn’t need the “Dr.” in front of my name to convince people I was smart.

Again – I am White.

My Black colleagues with Master and Doctoral degrees always use the “Rev. Dr.” in front of their names because it reflects their achievements in a world that doesn’t assume that Black and Brown people are professional, well-educated, brilliant human beings.  And it’s about respect in a culture that has not respected their ancestors.

Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Dean of the School of Divinity at Howard University wrote this article in The Christian Century recently in which she talked about this need for respect.  She shared the story of civil rights activist Mary Hamilton who was arrested during a peaceful protest in Alabama in 1963 and  was held in contempt of court after refusing to answer questions until she was addressed as “Miss Hamilton.”  The laws in Alabama were changed because of her demand for respect.

We live in rather casual culture now where children call their pastors by their first names  – at least in some churches.  I call all my colleagues by their first names when I am talking with them, but they are Dr. __ or Rev. __ when I’m referring to them among their parishioners, especially when I’m referring to Black and Brown colleagues.  This is an essential teaching tool.  I work among some of the most gifted pastors in the country and I know that my Black colleagues are still not respected in the same way my White colleages are.  To remind church people that their leaders are graduate school-educated pastors is important, especially when some church folks disrespect their leaders.

Joseph Epstein’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal here sparked controversy when he suggested that Dr. Jill Biden wasn’t a real doctor because her degree was a Doctor of Education.  He was challenged in social media to put it mildly.

It’s important for the First Lady to be known as Dr. Biden to remind us that she, too, is a well-educated leader with expertise beyond the honorific of FLOTUS.

I can be called “Jan” without dismissing myself because of my White Privilege.  And yet sometimes I use Rev. Dr. Edmiston because it’s a helpful reminder to some that women can be pastors and holders of doctorate degrees.

My point is that I imagine a world in which we stop assuming that just because people not in the dominant demographic, it doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted and worthy of respect.  God sees us as we were created to be.  This alone should be enough to see each other in new ways.

Image showing the three stripes of a doctoral robe.  I don’t know why Juris Doctor recipients aren’t called “Dr.”

3 responses to “Jan & Dr. Edmiston

  1. Terry Purvis-Smith

    Dear Dr. Edminston, I happened across your blog a few weeks ago and am entertained and challenged by them. I earned a Ph.D. in 1973. When I’m asked how “like to be called,” I say my name is Terry, but if your introducing me in a public, professional setting you might be more formal. And, I am a while male. I’m glad for others to tell me how they want to be addressed. I do mind going to the clinic and being summoned into the inner sanctum as “Terry.” You may know, it’s a hollering into the crowded waiting room for the next patient/client or whatever. I’m convinced that Terry is fine in the church, although many say Pastor Terry. I’m irritated by the presumed familiarity within the health care system, a familiarity that I think may, in part, account for poor-to-bullying treatment of patients. Looking forward to your next essay, Terry


  2. Pingback: Monday Musings, February 8, 2021 – Unreserved in the PWR

  3. You give some good insight and wise advice. It is a good word for all of us.

    In the American church, as leaders we have taught at length theology and Bible and doing justice politically but we are just beginning to help people gain the skills to navigate difference and privilege in a way that strengthens relationships. Thank you for your effort in this area.

    There are multiple reasons to respect people even if they do not have an advanced degree, of cource. Recent research in brain activity has biologically confirmed a theory of 9 different types of intelligence and most of our educational system only recognizes, tests and reward 2-3 types. https://www.simplypsychology.org/multiple-intelligences.html

    In describing how to address others,, I also think it is difficult to make generalizations, especially about a culture other than my own, and I find I can make mistakes with the best of intentions

    I usually resort to mimicking what others say or asking people how they would like to be addressed, especially when not in my own cultural grouping, whether I am somewhere in the USA or Africa or S America or Asia. It is usually difficult for me to know what is best for other people. So I just ask them. But my ability to ask them and obtain a meaningful response also depends on our relationship. 🙂

    I remember Jesus having a few things to say about honorific titles. I would be interested for you to engage his teaching along these lines.

    When I peer into the future, I see fewer and fewer congregations being able to afford full time, formally educated pastors who have spent time in expensive schools. Barna claims 1 in 5 churches may be closing their doors in the next 18 months. It is a Covid induced lack of cash but a long term business model challenge as fixed costs rise for salaries,land, buildings, maintenance, pensions, health care, and insurance. I am hoping we can learn to respect all our leaders, both formally educated and otherwise, as models of church adapt to new economic realities.

    With grace and peace,


    Rev Dr James A Milley
    Irish and English (mostly)
    Very Privileged in many situations
    Father of Amanda, Sarah and Nathan
    Earned DMin in USA
    Honorary Doctorate from Nepal
    BA Psychogy
    Member of Ethiopian Family Hailu Diglu
    Member of LGBTQ+ Family
    Member of Down Syndrome Family
    Member of Cancer Survivers Family
    Member of Front Line Family
    Member of Human Family
    Totally broken and messed up

    Depending on time and place and purpose and those present and our relationship, you may choose appropriately from the above list, as seems fitting to the occasion, to address me, if that seems appropriate.

    And may the smile and laughter of God be present with you and bounce around in your heart.


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