How to Address a Pastor

On this Page:
Current Pastor
Pastor and Spouse
Pastor Married to Military Personnel
Two Pastors Married to One Another

Pastor with a Doctorate – All About
Retired Pastor
Pastor Writing Own Signature

How to Address a Pastor, Minister, Christian Clergy

Pastor With a Doctorate

—-Envelope or address block on letter or email:
—-—-The Reverend (Full Name)
—-—-(Address)  how to address a protestant minister

—-Salutation: how to address a protestant minister
—-—-Dear Dr. (Surname):

Pastor Without a Doctorate

—-Envelope or address block on letter or email:
—-—-The Reverend (Full Name)

—-—-Dear Pastor (Surname):how to address a protestant minister

Here are the basics:

—-#1) Use of THE REVEREND: The Reverend is a courtesy title, and courtesy titles describe the person. The Reverend always precedes a full name. NOTE: Using a less formal form 0f address might be right sometimes: using this formal form is right just about all the time.

—-#2) Use of REVEREND: Sometimes the Reverend is informally shortened to Reverend (or Rev.) and used as an honorific like Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. before the name. While not the most formal form, it is the preference of some pastors and their congregations. If you know an individual pastor prefers simply Reverend (Name)  (abbreviated in writing to Rev. (Name) – use it: it is always courteous to follow the preference of the individual.

—-#3) MINISTER as an honoriific Minister is sometimes used to describe any member of clergy: “He is the minister of  a church in Maryland.”  
—-But some congregations use minister as an honorific – Minister (Surname) – for a member of the congregation who is clergy but is not the Pastor.  For this latter member of clergy addressed as Minister (Surname), modify the form for Pastor above.

—-#4) PASTOR as an honoriific:   ‘Pastor’ as an honorific – as in Pastor (Surname) – is widely accepted among Protestant clergy. Among smaller, independent congreations other forms may be preferred: check for local preference. Episcopal and Catholic priests use Father (Surname) orally and in a salutation.

For forms of address for other clergy follow the appropriate link in the list at right.

– Robert Hickey how to address a protestant minister

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

How to Address a Pastor & Spouse?

How do I address a sympathy card to our pastor and her husband?  They are Pastor Allyson Smith and Wilson Smith.
—-—-—-– Comstock

Dear Comstock,

—-#1) Pastor & The Reverend: Formally on an envelope or address block of a letter use The Reverend (Full Name).  Use Pastor (Surname) in a salutation and conversation.

—-#2) Name Order: People with a courtesy title – here, the Reverend – rank higher than a person without a courtesy title. Formally your Pastor is listed first. Her husband is listed second.

—-#3) Complete Names: When a person has a title, they get their name written as a unit – not mixed with another person’s name.
——–Avoid: The Reverend Allyson and Mr. Wilson Smith
——–Much better: The Reverend Allyson Smith and Mr. Wilson Smith

—-#4) First Ladies: In many historically African-American congregations the wife of the pastor is known as the First Lady.  See form for addressing a First Lady.

Pastor & Husband

—-—-The Reverend Allyson Smith
—-—-and Mr. Wilson Smith

—-—-Dear Pastor Smith and Mr. Smith,
—-—-Dear Pastor and Mr. Smith

—-Or if you are on a first name basis, depending on what form of their names you use in conversation, you might use to start your note:
—-—-Dear Allyson and Wilson,

Pastor & Wife

—-—-The Reverend Calvin Jones
—-—-and Mrs. Jones

—-—-The Reverend Calvin Jones
—-—-and Ms. Brenda Simpson

—-—-Dear Pastor Jones and Mrs. Jones,
—-—-Dear Pastor Jones and Ms. Simpson,

– Robert Hickey

Forms of Address: How a conversation begins can have a huge impact on how the conversation - even the entire relationship - develops.

How to Address a Two Pastors Who are Married?

What is the proper way to address an invitation to my pastor and his wife?  She is pastor of her own church.
————– Susan Wise

Dear Ms. Wise:

—-#1) Same Surname: You didn’t mention if they both use the same surname … so I will assume the do. I will also assume you address each as Pastor (Surname) in conversation rather than Dr. (Surname), Father/Mother (Surname), or something else.

—-#2) Full Name as a Unit: Formally when a person has a special form of address you write their full name as a unit and don’t combine it with other people’s names.

—-#3) Who is First? Who is Second? The rule for name order is to list ‘your intended guest’ first and ‘their guest’ second. If they are both invited equally some people insists the right way is to list them ladies first, men second. Others say to follow the “Mr. and Mrs. Order” which lists men first. But since you said he’s your pastor and she is his guest – list your pastor first & his spouse second:

—-#4) Same Surname: 

—-The Reverend Clinton Jones

—-—-and The Reverend Susan Jones

——–Dear Pastors Jones,

—-Invitation’s  inside envelope:
—-—-Pastors Jones

—-#5) Different Surnames: 

—-—-The Reverend Clinton Jones
—-—-and The Reverend Susan Wilson

—-On the salutation::
—-—-Dear Pastor Jones and Pastor Wilson,

—-Invitation’s inside envelope:
—-—-Pastor Jones and Pastor Wilson

– Robert Hickey

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

How to Address a Pastor with a Doctorate?

The office staff at my church writes our pastor’s name as – Rev. Dr. B. W. McClendon, Ph.D.  Is it appropriate to use all those titles all at once?
————– Mrs. Brown

Dear Mrs. Brown:

—-#1) Something Before or Something After: In the U.S. – the tradition is a simplified style which uses one thing before a name or one thing after a name. Not both.  With a pastor with a doctorate these are the traditional forms:

—-On the envelope or address block on a letter:
—-—-The Reverend (Full Name)

—-In a university catalog, degrees are listed after the name:
—-—-(Full Name), D.Div.

—-In a salutation (and conversation) use an honorific:
—-—-Dr. (Surname)

This rule is followed when formally addressing U.S. elected officials who are ‘the Honorable (Full Name)’. When we address them as ‘the Honorable’ we do not include another title or rank in front of their name: E.g. none of these is combined with ‘the Honorable: Dr., Mayor, Senator, General, Judge, Professor, Mr./Ms./Dr.

—-—-Yes The Honorable James Higgins, Senator for …
—-—-Never The Honorable Senator James Higgins of …

—-—-Yes Dr. James Higgins
—-—-Yes James Higgins, Ph.D.
—-—-Never Dr. James Higgins, Ph.D.

—-So … That’s the rule … one thing before or after, not both.

—-#2) More Than One at a Time?  This is in contrast to the British who include every honorific and post-nominal all at once: ‘The Reverend Dr. (Full Name)’. In the U.S. you see the British Style used by some clergy, notably the Episcopalians – probably influenced by the Church of England.

Other non-Episcopal clergy use the compound style too, so you do see it. I am just saying it’s not stylistically consistent with the standard U.S. styles.

If you know it’s their personal preference – use it. It’s always courteous to address an individual in the form they prefer regardless of whether or not it is by the book.

—-#3) Reverend -or- The Reverend?  When the correspondence is formal … use The Reverend rather than just ‘Reverend’ or ‘Rev.’  Sometimes Reverend is abbreviated so just Rev. (Name) . Abbreviating is less formal than spelling it out.

My mother’s pastor likes to be addressed in conversation as Reverend Bob – so I address him as Reverend Bob. In writing I would use The Reverend (Full Name). In a conversation or salutation, if I did not know his preference, I’d use Pastor (Surname).  That’s widely acceptable and works for all the Protestant denominations.

– Robert Hickey

Forms of Address: How a conversation begins can have a huge impact on how the conversation - even the entire relationship - develops.

How to Address Retired Clergy?

Do you still use ‘Rev. (Name)’ or ‘The Reverend (Name)’ to address a retired minister? In conversation do I still call them ‘Reverend (Name)’ or ‘Pastor (Name)’

—-—-—-– Higgins Clinton

Dear Mr. Clinton,

Retired clergy continue to be addressed in the style of their still-active counterparts. So, your pastor is ‘The Reverend (Full Name)’ forever. It never expires.

Formally the envelope look like:
—-—-The Reverend James Wilson

In the salutation use the same form of the name you use in conversation. Use whichever honorific is their preference. These are formal options:
—-—-Dear Pastor Wilson:
—-—-Dear Reverend Wilson:
—-—-Dear Dr. Wilson:

Of course, if you are on a first name basis then you could use:
——–Dear Jim,
——–Dear Pastor Jim,
——–Dear Father Jim,

– Robert Hickey

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

How Should Clergy Sign Their Own Name?

How should a pastor sign his or her name on a formal letter?  Should I be signing:
——–Rev. (Full Name)
—-—-(Full Name), Pastor
—-—-Pastor (Full Name)

—-—-—-– DPM

Dear DPM,

While others will refer to you are those forms you suggest – when you formally put ink on paper, sign your full name. No title before your name. Nothing after your name.

E.g., I never sign ‘Mr. Robert Hickey’ …. I just sign ‘Robert Hickey’.

Include any titles. degrees, offices and organizations in the signature block over which you sign your name.  That will explain who you are.

– Robert Hickey

Forms of Address: How a conversation begins can have a huge impact on how the conversation - even the entire relationship - develops.

How to Address a Pastor and Her Military Husband?

My question has to do with addressing an invitation’s envelope. Our Pastor, Alyson Smith, is married to a retired Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith, USN. He is to be receive his Ph.D. soon. Dr.? Commander? Lieutenant Commander?

————–- Bobbi Sue Minton

Dear BSM:

I am guessing you are addressing him socially, so … socially his name is written:
——–Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith

As a member of the clergy, her name is written:
——–The Reverend Alyson Smith

In the US, academic post nominals are never used with a military rank. He can be ‘Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith’ (‘Commander Smith’ in conversation) or ‘Richard Smith, Ph.D.’ in an academic environment. But he is never ‘Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith Ph.D.’.

Name order is determined by who has higher precedence. An active duty or retired military officer will have higher precedence than a civilian:
—-—-Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith
—-—-and The Reverend Alyson Smith

BUT guests, regardless of their rank, are listed before their escorts. If she is the invited guest and he is invited as her escort (as a courtesy to the guest), then her name would appear first:
—-—-The Reverend Alyson Smith
—-—-and Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith

I have spelled out ‘Lieutenant Commander’ every time above, to avoid the whole issue of how to abbreviate his rank. Formally it is always correct to fully spell out military ranks. But within the armed services they routinely use ‘service-specific abbreviations’. I won’t get into all that here, but just know that they do exist.

– Robert Hickey How to Address a Protestant Minister

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

When Should You Use the Forms on this Page?

You can use these forms of address for any mode of communication: addressing a letter, invitation, card or Email. (If there are differences between the official and social forms of address, I will have mentioned the different forms.)  The form noted in the salutation is the same form you say when you say their name in conversation or when you greet them.

Not Finding Your Answer?

—-#1)  At right on desktops, at the bottom of every page on tablets and phones, is a list of all the offices, officials & topics covered on the site.

—-#2)  If you don’t see the official you seek included or your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day or so (unless I am traveling.)  Note: I don’t have mailing or Email addresses for any of the officials and I don’t keep track of offices that exist only in history books.

—-#3)  If I think your question is of interest to others, Sometimes I post the question  – but always change all the specifics.

— Robert Hickey 

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"