Coming Out of the Closet

Jason Micheli —  February 15, 2013 — 10 Comments

I have a collared clergy shirt. A couple actually.

I don’t often wear it.

I usually only pull it out for burials (it’s hard to drive to a cemetery wearing a robe and even more awkward getting dressed beside my car in front of mourners).

I sometimes wear it to weddings (because wedding planners often think I’m 14 years old and attempt to treat me accordingly).

I often wear it to nursing homes (where the collar communicates better than my words to someone who struggles with hearing or memory).

I usually don’t wear it. Much like clergy robes themselves, I believe anything that exacerbates a distinction between clergy and laity is unhelpful in a Post-Christian culture where most Christians are incapable of articulating their faith to others. Because, as the unspoken assumption goes, ministry is the minister’s job. Not mine.

I did a funeral and burial this morning.

Clergy collar? On.

Afterwards, because my cleaning lady was at my house, I stopped at Starbucks where I now sit.

Coffee still in my hand, butt not yet all the way in my seat, laptop only halfway opened and the person next to me asks: ‘Is it strange having everyone around you know what your faith is.’

I was taken aback because, let’s face it, most of the time I can glide through my day with no one knowing that part of life and identity save for the people I meet in the safe confines of the Church.

And most of you can glide through life with no one knowing that part of your life.

And most of you do.

Just sitting here for the past 90 minutes, I’ve had three other questions from three other people- and one of them bought this ‘Father’ a coffee too (which was kinda embarrassing).

I’ve always had a beef with clergy robes and clergy shirts for being antiquated (the average unchurched person has no idea why I would dress like a 4th century lawyer- or Obi Wan- on Sunday morning).

I’ve always taken issue with the fact that robes aren’t really traditional (Methodists only started wearing them around WW II), and, as I mentioned, I genuinely believe smashing the clergy/lay divide is a necessary task for the Church to survive into the 21st century, for if pastors are the keepers and dispensers of holy things the Church will never reach unchurched people.

But sitting here in Starbucks suggests something different to me. Maybe there’s something ‘invitational’ about the collar.

It outs me as though I were wearing a storefront sign around my neck

I know some clergy say they don’t wear collars and robes because they want to be able to ‘relate’ to people. I think, and always have, that that’s stupid. Especially in the case of the collar. After all, if I were just sitting in a t-shirt this afternoon, as I usually do, I never would’ve been in a position to ‘relate’ to anyone.

Because I could just avoid them. As I usually do.

Maybe there was something to all those Levitical commands about God’s People cultivating a very precise, distinctive appearance.

Which leaves me with a conundrum.

  1. I don’t think clergy/lay distinctions are helpful.
  2. This stupid collar that’s crimping my overlarge Adam’s apple is more helpful than a cross around my neck- because everyone wears those.

So maybe the solution is:

  3. All Christians should have to wear these out and about.

I doubt I’ll get many takers among the laity on #3, but I’ve decided on a little experiment during Lent. One or two days a week during Lent, I will hang out in a public place (SB, Pub and the like) and see what sorts of conversations come.


Jason Micheli


10 responses to Coming Out of the Closet

  1. hence my seriousness in asking you about robes last week

  2. Jason, a very interesting proposition. As I read the early part of your posting, and as I recall many of your remarks on flying and being identified as a pastor in that situation, I have often wondered why being recognized in public is so problematic to you. I get the need for some privacy and for some “away-time.” I don’t begrudge you those. But, here you are, a gifted pastor, and a pretty normal human being — notwithstanding the humorous comments at the Fat Tuesday roast. And, I believe it would be nice for you to signal to others that you are open to engaging on faith in common ordinary situations.

    So, I like your suggestion about wearing the collar, because it reveals an openness to engaging folks in those ‘outside the church’ situations. I have this bias, yes its a shock to think that Tom could have a bias, about folks who usually share their faith in public. Often, it comes with a large amount of scriptural quotes that are superficially linked together to convince someone to join the family. I mean, I can respect that, to a point. But it if hits others like it does me, then its not very effective in reaching people – pretty much off-putting. But, with you, and many others I know, it might just be good to see a person in ordinary situations who is open to others knowing he is a person of faith – and open to thoughtful conversation on Christianity. So, I hope you do put yourself in those situations by “wearing your collar.” But, as you know well, it will be something that creates an even greater demand on your time. I say, go for it. Many people ae likely to respond because they do have a need to talk about God in a non-superficial, non-threatening, non-argumentative way.

  3. Jason-
    Clergy collars and robes are interesting things. We had a friend who put on his collar and sat at a bar and talked to people as his ministry of listening. People who otherwise wouldn’t be in church frequently came up to him and talked about faith, life, and many, many other things.
    I think a collar invites response in many situations if the wearer has a humble attitude and an inviting persona.

    As to your comment on robes, here’s a clergywoman’s perspective. On the few occasions when I didn’t wear a robe in worship I often heard more about my clothes than worship. Mostly likely the response was a result of my lack of worship leadership, but there is something different about how people view clothes on women and men–myself included.

    Food for thought. Thanks for making me think with your insights.

    • The differences in how male and female clergy are perceived is a very good point and one I agree with. differnet note- i remember two years ago we had Lauren Winner here and she preached in a skirt, heels and sleeveless clergy shirt with unshaven arms. Gave me heartburn but the congregation actually loved her.

  4. On the other hand, in this on-line always-connected world, unless we hide it, everyone “knows what our faith is” just as if we wore a clerical collar. I have about 300 Facebook friends, and only about 50 are from Aldersgate or are people I know from mission trips. When I engage in Facebook conversations with you and those who comment on your Tamed Cynic Facebook posts (or when I post on my own page about our Guatemala trips), it’s very much a public statement seen by hundreds of people that I both know and don’t know. This is true of anyone whos is active in social media and open about their belief.

    • That’s a really good point Bob. This blog itself is a good example since most of the subscribers have no connection to Aldersgate.

  5. So the next question is, what would it be like for laity to start wearing collars?

  6. Jason, I love that you are a radical in this interesting culture we live in. And, I agree with much that Tom Miller said. I think there should be a little more collar once in a while from you and that your answer lies in “mixing it up.” From my perspective, just because you are who you are, you are very relatable. However, I’ve seen you at SB many times and not wanted to bother you because you usually look like you are writing. If you really have to get something done, such as your sermon, than I say no collar that day. However, I think there is something safe and trustworthy about seeing that collar and inviting at the same time. So many out there are searching. That collar may just invite some answering, and even more trusting, because of who you are, which could be quite healing to our culture so suspect of collars of recent years. I see this as the next step in the responsibility of your career and you are clearly ready. Just plan wisely so you don’t get inundated. You are awesome! Heidi

  7. I live, work, and minister in New York City (I’m an Episcopal priest who wears a collar out in the open). As a city, we are and have been completely post-Christian for a while now.

    Among younger people I encounter (I live in Brooklyn – the center of young hipster-dom) who don’t carry around with them the baggage of the Baby Boomers against tradition and religion (generally), I find that there is a cautious respect for those who are willing to “wear the garb.” They may not know how to approach you or begin a conversation, but wearing a collar suggests to them a lack of hypocrisy – you put yourself out there for all to see. If suggests that the collar wearer takes his/her faith seriously enough to be seen, even if to appear odd. To them, it speaks of enduring tradition – an age-old wisdom that is available and lived (something very different than what they experience in their everyday lives).

    Wearing a collar is meaningless unless the person wearing it truly carries with them the imago Dei. Of course, those who wear the collar have to be in disposition, manner, and attitude like their Master, else why should anyone pay attention? I find that younger people are seeking something that is consequential enough to devote themselves to, but they find that most in Christian churches don’t fit the bill, so why should they devote themselves to that.

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  1. Clergy Collar Encounters | Jason Micheli - March 4, 2013

    […] Two weeks ago I came out of the closet. You can read about that here. […]

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