How To Use Religious Titles in AP Style
The first time I was assigned to write a piece involving a religious organization, I took extra care to research the proper religious titles for all individuals referenced. As I quickly discovered, there is a staggering variety of religious titles, most of them specific to different faiths and denominations. Fortunately, the Associated Press Stylebook addresses many of them in detail. Let’s review together how to properly use religious titles in AP style.
Religious Titles Before Names
Religious titles are formal titles. They should be capitalized when attached before names of individuals, and they should be lowercase when they stand alone. A religious title is appropriate on first reference before the name of a clergyman or clergywoman.
The program included a message from the Rev. Stephen Porter.
On second reference, use only the individual’s last name.
Attendees appreciated Porter’s brevity.
In cases where a figure has taken a religious name as part of a title, maintain usage of this name throughout.
Hotels were fully booked in advance of the visit by Pope Francis. The popularity of the pope was plainly evident, as a massive crowd gathered to receive Francis.
Priests and Ministers
Use of the Rev. is appropriate on first reference for most priests and ministers. Monsignor should be used when applicable for Roman Catholic priests.
The facility was graced with a visit by Monsignor Timothy Howard.
Avoid using the Rev. Dr. before a name unless reference to an individual’s earned doctoral degree is relevant. Do not include Dr. for honorary doctor of divinity degrees.
Avoid using such words as father, pastor and curate before individuals’ names. In direct quotations, however, capitalize these terms when used as titles before names.
“The church is very blessed to have Pastor Steve,” said one parishioner.
Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals
On first reference, capitalize Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal before names. On subsequent references, use either the individual’s last name or the title by itself in lowercase.
Later, Bishop Francisco Medina stopped by the school. A group of students presented a gift to the bishop. Medina accepted it gladly.
If appropriate in the context, substitute the Most Rev. as applicable to certain bishops and archbishops.
Opening remarks were given by the Most Rev. Robert W. McElroy, archbishop of San Diego.
Use Rabbi as a formal title, capitalized before a name, on first reference. Use only the rabbi’s last name on second reference.
Joining the discussion was Rabbi Ben Silverstein. Silverstein impressed the panel with his wisdom.
Use Sister or, if applicable, Mother before the name of a nun. If the name is a religious name, use the title and name together in all references.
A man came asking for Sister Mary Eunice. Sister Mary Eunice insisted she did not know the man.
If the nun uses a surname, include the title on first reference. Use the surname on subsequent references.
The head nun was Sister Judy Martin. Martin was known to be a rigid disciplinarian.
For individuals who are not ordained clergy but hold offices in the church, use a comma construction to set a lowercase title apart from the name.
Felix Smith, the church treasurer, can answer questions about the budget.
If the position is accompanied by a formal title, however, and the title immediately precedes an individual’s name, then capitalize it.
Chief Financial Officer Gregory Griffin brings years of accounting experience to his position with the new megachurch.
AP Style Religious Titles: No Great Mystery
However inscrutable they may at first appear, religious titles are no great mystery. If you still need help using religious titles in AP style, leave us a comment below!
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Only wanna say that this is invaluable, Thanks for taking your time to write this.
Do i capitalize the names of departments or courses? Ex., He works in the department of history or He works in the Department of History?
The courses are philosophy, theology math Or The courses are Philosophy, Theology ,Math?
In speaking of the Prior General is it capitalized or should it be the prior general?
AP style states that you should “use lowercase for internal elements of an organization when they have names that are widely used generic terms.” Go with “department of history.”
Use lowercase spellings for college courses, unless part of the course name is a proper noun or includes course numbers.
Ex: “Amanda took courses in philosophy, theology, math and English.”
Ex: “Amanda is failing Philosophy 101.”
Follow the ‘Religious Titles Before Names” section above for direction on capitalizing “prior general.” Capitalize titles attached to names (directly before names), otherwise the title should remain lowercase.
Ex: “Prior General Simon Stock was an Englishman.”
Ex: “Simon Stock was a prior general.”
Do you capitalize elders? Ex: “The elders are meeting to discuss church membership.” or “The Elders are meeting to discuss church membership.”
Hi, Teryn. Regarding “elders,” AP editors say, “For its use in religious contexts, see the entry for an individual’s denomination.” If you know the denomination, we may be able to narrow the guideline. Thanks!
Hopefully I am not two years too late in asking this but here it goes.
I am evaluating consistency within a gaming platform and the following are giving me “yeah-no” conclusions:
Dissident Priest(s) —> Dissident priest(s)
Temple Priest(s) —> Temple priest(s)
Both variants from the above examples are used throughout dialogue strings (groups), though never within the same entry (line).
Lore wise, Dissident Priests are a group separate from Temple priests. I did not capitalize “priests” in regards to Temple because they are not a separate group from the Temple, but a part of it.
I may not be explaining this well…
My primary concern is with the proper capitalization of “priest(s)” within the first group title as stated.
My most recent conclusion is that “Dissident” is the proper designation itself, as to a group, but that is countered by the presence of the capitalized “priest(s)” also occurring.
I would greatly appreciate any insight, thank you.
Hi, Ross. When following AP style, you’d go with “dissident priests” and “temple priests.” But it sounds like the gaming platform is using these names as proper nouns. If that’s the case, then capitalizing both words (“Dissident Priests”) is correct.
Members of Protestant churches are called congregants, Catholic Church members are called parishioners.
Thanks for sharing, Larry. Here’s AP Stylebook’s stance on the term “parishioner.”
“Note this spelling for the member of a parish, an administrative district of various churches, particularly Roman Catholic and Anglican. Do not use for Judaism or non-hierarchal Protestant denominations.”
There is not a separate category for “congregant.”
What about temple? When it’s formal it’s Temple Israel. But when I’m talking about they served on the temple’s Board of Trustees…?
AP prefers “synagogue” over “temple.” Here is the full entry for “synagogue,” in case it helps:
“The preferred term for a Jewish house of worship. Many Reform synagogues (and some others) have the word temple in their names, a usage deemed archaic by some — it harks back to the early 19th century, when German Jews used it to assert that they no longer yearned to restore the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Orthodox Jews often use the word shul, Yiddish for school. Avoid the redundant Jewish synagogue. Congregation can be used generically: The congregation met every Sabbath to worship.”
Based on the entry, generic uses of “temple” (not in names) would be lowercase.
In writing, should the title ‘Father’ be abbreviated Fr. in conversation, even w/o his name?
Here’s the full “Father” entry in the AP Stylebook:
“Use the Rev. in first reference before the names of Episcopal, Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests. Use Father before a name only in direct quotations.”
Somewhere I read that the initials for religious orders should be written with periods for women and without periods for men. So, the Order of Saint Benedict would be OSB for men and O.S.B. for women Benedictines. Is this correct? Thanks!
Should the initials for religious order be on a mailing label. If so is there a comma before?
AP style editors have not addressed this question. I have seen some people put the initials in parentheses, though.
When referring to a pastor who is retired, would you write in a death announcement, “She was the wife of Retired Pastor J. D. Smith or she was the wife of retired pastor J. D. Smith? In our denomination, the title reverend is rarely used, even though AP Style advises against using pastor as a title.
We’d go with, “She was the wife of Pastor Emeritus J. D. Smith.”
Generally, the title “Emeritus” is bestowed on a retired pastor as a term of special honor and affection by a congregation. Simply being retired would not merit this designation.
Thank you for the clarification, John!
Shall I write “…he accepted the senior pastor position.” or “…he accepted the Senior Pastor position.”
Go with, “He accepted the senior pastor position.”
Does the religious title come before academic titles (for example, “Pastor Dr. John Smith”) or the other way around (“Dr. Pastor John Smith”) for a religious leader who also holds a doctorate?