Many of us are aware of the alphabet soup of the United States government. There’s the FBI, CIA, DHS, NCIS, NASA, USAF, USN, USCG, USA (army), and the USMC. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of other initials that stand for some agency or organization. Even in the sports world there’s the NBA, MLB, NFL and so forth.
But the church world has its own alphabet soup. There’s the UMC (United Methodist Church), the SBC (Southern Baptist Church), the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the United States of America), PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the A/G, or AOG (Assemblies of God), the COG (Church of God), GOGIC (Church of God in Christ), ECUSA, (the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, which has changed its name to simply The Episcopal Church, or TEC), the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and hundreds, yea thousands of others, and my personal favorite, the CEC (Charismatic Episcopal Church).
It is also fashionable in some religious circles for clergy and those in religious vocations to have initials after their names with the various Protestants having their highest degree posted (i.e. The Rev’d John Smith, D.Min., or Doctor of Ministry) and, among the various catholic/sacramental groups, initials that stand for an Order or an association (i.e. Father John Smith, OSB, or Order of St. Benedict).
Sometimes, the clergy get a bit carried away with too many designations. For Example, The Rev’d John Smith, D.Min., ThM, MDiv, MA, MS, BS, AS. A little much, don’t you think? But the other group can be just as bad. For example, the alphabet soup that I could personally use would be these:
FAPC – Fellow of the College of the Academy of Parish Clergy
OSV – Order of St. Vincent
OHS – Oblates of the Holy Spirit
OSL – Order of St. Luke the Physician, an Order dedicated to healing
OSL – an entirely different Order of St. Luke that serves liturgical interests
So, if I used all of the available designations, it would look something like this:
The Most Rev’d W. David Epps, D.Min, D.Hum, CAPL, ThM, MA, BSW, Dip., FAPC, OSV, OHS, OSL, OSL
A bit ridiculous, don’t you think? Besides, how would all that fit on a business card? And who the heck would know what it all meant?
Anyway, some decade and a half ago, I entered into correspondence with a fellow clergy members who always signed his name while adding at least three sets of initial after his name. Being duly impressed, I started signing my correspondence, “Father David Epps, LPP.”
The correspondence continued back and forth for several months. Finally, I received a letter that said something like, “I give up! I have searched all my religious source books, including Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox. I have looked until I have run out of source material. Please! What does ‘LPP’ stand for?”
My response was a very short letter that said:
LPP – Lowly Parish Priest
Sometimes I think we overdo the alphabet soup game—especially in the Church. The simple truth is that almost no one in the congregations really care about how many or what degrees we have, if any. They, for the most part, care even less about the other associational designations as well.
They care about whether we are genuine, authentic, caring, competent, encouraging, forgiving, inspiring, and serving. If we rejoice with them and weep with them. If we are available during the hard times as well as during the celebratory times. Are we people of The Word and do we keep our word? Can they trust us not to judge them, yet, at the same time, be honest with them? Will we love them when they are good and will we still love them when they are bad?
And, truth be told, there are no initials for that.
David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org