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.
- I don’t think clergy/lay distinctions are helpful.
- 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.